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The More Educated A Woman Is the Older She is When She Has Her First Child

November 15, 2013

Among my friends and I who have attained graduate degrees, it was roundly determined that my decision for childbearing at the young age of 25 was impossibly young–after all, I hadn’t even applied to grad school yet. I did go on to graduate from Harvard, hence my moniker, but I was considered amongst my sect as being quite young to have my child.  All the others waited until thirty, at least. I am in the minority in my current neighborhood, mainly comprised of uneducated women, many of them teenaged mothers, and most of them living in poverty.

I had noticed this trend myself, that the younger the women were when they had children, the more their lives were destined to be lived in poverty. According to a recent study, only 3% of mothers with college degrees give birth before age 25, and these women end up being more financially stable overall than their younger-bearing counterparts:

Americans who are college-educated are much more likely to think women should wait until they are 26 or older to have children. Only 3 percent of moms with a college degree give birth before age 25, and a full 31 percent of all mothers with a bachelor’s degree are over 35 when they have their first kid. Furthermore, there’s a lot of evidence that the gains in wages over the past few decades have been made by childless women and that the longer women wait to have kids – up to a point – the better it will be for their lifetime earnings and financial security. The fact that less educated young people still think that women should have children young isn’t good news for our already yawning class divide. The younger you have kids, the more difficult it is to pursue higher education, and according to a Pew study, “What is irrefutable … is that on average the more education a woman has, the better off her children will be.”

If more education for the mother makes for better lives for the children, perhaps more discussion should be focused on ways to encourage women to attain higher education degrees, the benefits of waiting to have children until finishing a degree.

According to another report, just graduating high school alone has protective benefits against living in poverty:

In their 2009 book, “Creating an Opportunity Society,” Haskins and Sawhill identified three crucial social norms: graduating high school, having a full-time job, and waiting until you’re 21 and married to have children. Only 2 percent of those who follow all three norms were in poverty in 2007, whereas 76 percent of people who followed none of them were in poverty that year.

Does marriage prevent poverty? Not likely, in and of itself, but it does help financial stability to have more than one person responsible for paying bills.

It is strange that the medical establishment promotes women having children as young as possible, but for financial stability, it makes more sense for women to wait to have children. I also wonder about the current medical establishment’s fascination with the perfect time to have children. According to mainstream knowledge, having children before age 35 makes for healthier children; however, among the families I know, having children younger didn’t make for healthier children, just the opposite. Birth defects were apparent for young parents, congenital anomalies were actually pretty common in the younger sect, even among teenaged parents, and so while statistically somewhere, there might be a true rationale for birthing younger, for the local population, it just meant that there was more of a strain on the young and poor families who were attempting to deal with congenital anomalies.

What it ultimately comes down to is that in having children, there is no ultimate perfect time, to prevent against birth defects, to have the best chances of conceiving, to have the best financial future, provide the best education for the mother, meet societal standards, etc. for ages to all match up to a magical procreative nirvana.

Statistics regarding teen pregnancy are dire:

  • By age 22, only around 50 percent of teen mothers have received a high school diploma and only 30 percent have earned a General Education Development (GED) certificate, whereas 90 percent of women who did not give birth during adolescence receive a high school diploma.1
  • Only about 10 percent of teen mothers complete a two- or four-year college program.2
  • Teen fathers have a 25 to 30 percent lower probability of graduating from high school than teenage boys who are not fathers.3

It seems that pregnancy and achieving educational stability just don’t mix.


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