How To Respond To "Why Don't You Have Kids Yet?"

by Emma Cueto

When is the best time to have kids? Well, the answer to that is different for everyone, but science also has a few insights — such as a new study that says children born to older mothers often do better. So that's something you can pull out the next time someone asks why you don't have kids yet. Because seriously, the best time to have kids is when you want them. Period.

There's a lot of previous research about risks associated with having children later in life, including things like babies being born with Down Syndrome, or developing diabetes later in life. But new research also suggests there are a lot of benefits, and that overall, having children later in life might be really good for your kids. So how is that possible?

Well, as highlighted in the findings from Mikko Myrskylä, the director of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, and his colleague Kieron Barclay at the London School of Economics, the thing about having babies later in life is that those babies are being born into a world that is different than the one that existed when the parents were younger — usually one that's more advanced and better off.

Think of it this way — if a woman born in 1950 had a child at the age of 20, that baby would be born in 1970, but if she had a child at age 40, that child would be born in the year 1990, something that also has a big impact on a child's health and development. For instance, the average life expectancy in 1970 in the United States was about 71, but in 1990, it was 75.

Put another way: While a child born in 1990 whose mother was 40 might have more risk factors than a child born the same year whose mother was 20, a child born in 1990 whose mother was 40 would probably be better off than a child born in 1970 whose mother was 20.

But do the benefits of being born into a more medically advanced world really make up for the health risks associated with later pregnancies? Myrskylä and Barclay's research says yes.

"The benefits associated with being born in a later year outweigh the individual risk factors arising from being born to an older mother. We need to develop a different perspective on advanced maternal age. Expectant parents are typically well aware of the risks associated with late pregnancy, but they are less aware of the positive effects" said Myrskylä. So basically, we need to stop being ageist with regards to when people choose to become parents.

It is worth noting, of course, that their research was conducted in Sweden, so it's not certain that the principle still applies to the U.S. — for one thing, our health care system isn't nearly as good. But overall, when they looked at key health indicators like height and educational factor, they found that children born to older mothers are taller, get better grades in high school, and are more likely to go to university. In other words, they do better.

So the next time someone asks why you don't have kids yet, or implies that you're starting to get a little old and ought to be having them now, you can just tell them that waiting is better for your hypothetical future children anyway. Because even though it really isn't any of their business — the "right time" for kids is whenever you're ready for kids, after all — often times people don't seem to hear that, so it's good to have a backup.

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