How old is too old to have children? My husband and I have had this debate when we discuss how many more children we want for our family. He likes to jokingly give me an ultimatum based on his age on the premise that he doesn’t want to be the parent who is too old to keep up with his kid in high school. We were both born to parents in their early 20s, so we’re used to having younger parents and we don’t intend to wait too long before completing our own family.
However, for others, that is not the case. For some, a career has come first, but for others, the opportunity of a spouse or the ability to have children has not presented itself at an early age. According to the Centers for Disease Control, birth rates among women in their 20s and their 30s are declining and the average age of first motherhood has risen from 21 in 1970 to 25 today. But what is more interesting is that birth rates are rising for women in their 40s and above. In 2008, nearly 8,000 babies were born to women 45 or older. That is more than double the number in 1997. And even more surprising, 541 children were born to women 50 or older.
This week, New York Magazine ran a feature article on Parents of a Certain Age addressing the rising age of parenthood. Initially, the article puts forth all of the typical arguments against mothers of a certain age giving birth, particularly those 50 and older – but then about half-way through, the author does an about-face and begins to justify aged parenthood on the basis that children of older parents are smarter and better cared for because parents are more engaged, more affluent, and suffer less anxiety. Furthermore, late birth and older parenting may encourage parents to live healthier, longer lives. Yet, if a parent does die while the child is young, the article cites research stating that these children cope just fine.
The article is a very interesting read, despite calling anyone who questions the about-face an ageist. It is a difficult and sensitive subject. Who would want to deny someone a child who desperately wants one, especially when so many children are born to less fortunate situations? Is it selfish for older parents to want to give birth at a certain age or unethical for fertility doctors to facilitate it? How old is too old?