A myth in need of busting


I was shooting the shit with this woman that I've come to know well over the last 10 months or so via text messages the other day. She's Eastern European, over 30, and still quite lovely despite the fact that I can see from her Facebook photos (the ones that are public, anyway) that she is a long ways away from what she was at 29. Being from the East as she is, she wants to start a family and become a wife and mother- which seems to be a pretty common theme (thank God) among women from that part of the world.

All well and good- but there is just one problem: she pinged me the other day to state that she'd read an article talking about a study from some Texas university stating that the "best" age to have a baby is 34.

She followed it up with the argument that people should have children "when they want", and not before.

Unfortunately, she said this to me. And being a no-nonsense type who thinks in terms of logic and empirical evidence, this immediately set off my BS detector.

So I went a-searching for that article, and guess what? That's not what it actually says:

Dr. John Mirowsky, a sociology professor in the College of Liberal Arts, presented his findings at the American Sociological Association meeting in San Francisco.

The study examines the relationship of women’s health and mortality risk to parenthood and age at first birth. The sample was drawn from 2,215 women, 25 years or older from the 1986 U.S. survey of Americans’ Changing Lives, and its eight-year mortality follow-up. 

“Many U.S. women going to college currently delay first birth to around age 30, which is about 12 to 14 years after the end of puberty,” Mirowsky said. “Obstetricians and gynecologists are worried about this long a delay, because women’s reproductive systems are at peak function a year or two after the end of adolescent growth. Despite this, my literature review and data analyses find that delay of first birth until the late 20s or early 30s is associated with the best health outcomes for the infant and mother.”

The study shows a high level of current health problems among women who first gave birth in or shortly after puberty. Problems drop steadily the longer that first birth was delayed, up to about age 34, and then rise steeply again after about age 40. Comparison to non-mothers of similar age and race/ethnicity shows that the correlation of motherhood with health problems and mortality hazard switches from detrimental to beneficial with delay beyond about age 22.

“To our knowledge, this is the first study to map the hazard of death by age at first birth,” Mirowsky said.

Results show the highest mortality risks for mothers who had first births nearest puberty and the lowest mortality risks for mothers who had their first births in their 30s, while non-mothers are somewhere in the middle. Mothers whose first births occur at age 19 or later begin to gain advantage over non-mothers.

Read very carefully again over the blocks of text that I have emphasised.

The results of Dr. Mirowsky's study did not conclude that age 34 was the "best" age to have a child. The conclusion was simply that, statistically speaking, a woman who gives birth to her first child at the age of 34 has the maximum possible chance of avoiding post-natal health problems for herself and her child.

That is all.

This conclusion is noteworthy both for what it says, and what it does not.

As far as I can tell, the study does not look at the chances of conception of a woman in her late twenties or early thirties. Nor does it look at the biological and physical toll that childbirth and child-rearing takes on a woman.

What would happen when we do take into account these things?

Well, fortunately for all of us, I did some of that analysis myself, almost 3 years ago. And the moment that we stop focusing purely on a woman's health outcomes after childbirth and start looking at a broader set of factors, like the probability of conception, the likelihood of infertility, and the realities of raising children in one's mid-thirties, things start to look very bad indeed for the "girrrrrl power!" crowd.

In my write-up back in 2014, I argued that a woman who delays motherhood into her thirties is going to be hit with a one-two-three-four punch combination by the God of Biomechanics. (That's the executive summary version, anyway.)

It is worth taking some time to break down exactly how that beatdown is administered.

First, let's take a look at the same graph that I provided back then:

This is a simple enough graph to understand: on average, a woman's chances of conceiving a child with her man are very high between the ages of 20 and 28. But after 28 they begin dropping fairly quickly; by the time she is 35 her chances of conceiving are roughly 50%. And after that, from about the age of 36 to 44, her chances of conception drop significantly.

Equivalently, a woman's chances of infertility are minimal through 20-28, statistically significant from 28-35, and about even with her chances of conception from 36-44.

Essentially, what this tells us is that a woman has three "fertility windows". And the transition from one window to the next entails a relatively steep penalty in fertility.

So now let us take the stereotypical "modern woman", and see what the God of Biomechanics will do to her over the course of her "strong empowered career-driven" life.

(Here's a hint: it's not pretty.)

Suppose our hypothetical young woman goes from high school to college. Because of the widespread availability of contraceptives these days, she can happily spend her youth screwing half the football team (or all of it- and the lacrosse team, and the hockey team, and...) throughout her four-year bacchanalia spent learning something "useful" like, say, Sociology or Marketing or Gender Studies. By the time she has left university, she is probably 22-24 and just getting started on her career.

The many (dozens) of men that she had sex with in college have put her hypergamous instincts into overdrive, so now she refuses to "settle" for a man with potential but little by way of assets, but now wants a man who "has it all".

As a result, she happily continues to engage in casual sex, multiple flings, and one-night stands, on top of engaging in serial monogamy with any number of boyfriends.

That is right when the God of Biomechanics hits her with a stiff jab to the solar plexus.

We know for a fact that the more sexual partners a woman has, particularly during her younger years, the more difficult it becomes for her to "settle" for one man and raise his children. Indeed, the impact of hypergamy for women is so severe that a woman has slept with just two men has the same level of difficulty with pair-bonding and "settling down" as a man who has slept with nineteen women.

Now let us say that said young lady decides to concentrate her energies entirely on her career, and spends the next six to ten years climbing the corporate ladder, just like her male counterparts. We know that the so-called "wage gap" between men and women in their twenties is basically non-existent; indeed, in many white-collar professions like marketing and public relations, the salaries of young women tend to outstrip those of young men for the same positions.

And now the God of Biomechanics follows up with a hard right-cross to the nose.

The young woman in question is now 28-30. Her first fertility window is gone. She cannot get it back. And now she is watching some of her plainer, and hopefully somewhat more sensible, friends getting married off and having children. She sees how happy many of those friends are at simply being housewives. But she is still dating around, still single, and still looking for "Mr. Right"- while still engaging in many of the behaviours that caused her to squander her prime fertility window in the first place.

Worse, she is now in the age bracket- 28-34 or so- where, according to the very scientific evidence given above, it is safest for her to have children. But she isn't doing what is actually needed in order to have children.

Her biological clock is ticking away, though, and she hears it sounding every night when she curls up in her bed- sometimes alone, sometimes with her latest man. So she engages in a desperate search for "Mr. Right".

Unfortunately, she is a career woman who has slept around and let her hypergamous instincts run wild. As a result, she has an insanely detailed checklist of what she is looking for, and will refuse to countenance any man who does not meet her exacting criteria.

She will not accept any man who is less than six feet tall, who makes less than a six-figure salary, who does not own his own apartment and car, who is not on the management fast-track, and who will not pay for everything on the first date.

And anyone who has ever had to date women over 33 can tell you that the list of demands only gets more ridiculous the older she gets.

Now the God of Biomechanics strikes with a brutal hook to the ribs.

You see, the very men that she is interested in- mid-thirties, tall, handsome, well-off, with proven careers or solid businesses of their own- are no longer interested in her.

She is damaged goods by this time. All of those years spent sleeping around, partying, working all hours, and being a STRONG INDEPENDENT WOMAN!!! have left her stressed out, tired, and aged relative to the young, tight, hot twenty-somethings attracted to the lights of the big cities like moths to flame.

Growing ever more grumpy and fed-up with men, ever more demanding and bitchy, and ever less attractive as a woman, she carries on. If she is lucky, and if she has maintained her looks well enough, she might just find a man who is willing to wife her up by this point. But odds are that if she is single by the time she is 34-36, she's jolly well going to stay single.

However, let us be decent and kind and generous and say that, by the time she is 36, she has found a good man to marry. Maybe he is younger than her, but in all likelihood he is between 38 and 45.

Now it's time to get busy and start cranking out kids!!!

Er... right?

Now the God of Biomechanics goes in for the kill with a knockout uppercut to the chin. He follows it up with a hard question-mark kick to the head just for good measure.

You see, this woman now has two massive problems to deal with, not just one.

First, she is now into her third, and most difficult, fertility window. Her probability of conception is half of what it was when she was 20. Her probability of infertility is at least 15%- roughly one in six.

I'm not a gambling man, but I suspect you could probably do better just by playing blackjack at the nearest casino.

If this woman is able to conceive- and it's something of a big if- then it is likely to have been a medically-assisted process. Either she goes through in-vitro fertilisation, or she froze her eggs earlier in life and now unfreezes them and has them fertilised and then implanted.

You want to know how much IVF treatment costs? Roughly speaking, for three cycles of IVF, about $33,000 in out of pocket expenses.

You want to know how much freezing an egg costs? Somewhere between $7-12,000. And then she has to go through IVF to get it fertilised and implanted.

But let's say that maybe, just maybe, it all works out for the best and she gets knocked up, either the old-fashioned way or using... um... a turkey-baster. She and her man do manage to conceive a child. Hooray! Good for them!! Congratulations and felicitations and let's all have a baby shower!!!

Now we come to the second tiny problem.

Our young lady is now somewhere between 36 and 40 and pregnant for the first time.

Pregnancy is brutal upon mothers. It is astonishingly costly in time, resources, and energy. Women have to go through some very painful and difficult times when carrying and giving birth to children.

That is the very reason why, up until the 1960s or so, women were not able to just sleep around at will. The penalty for letting one slip past the goalie was extreme.

Now, however, with contraceptives available in train stations and bars everywhere, that penalty is gone.

And as a result, women who delay marriage, motherhood, and child-rearing find themselves running after kids in their forties with far less patience, energy, and willpower.

I know that there are a few men reading this whose wives bore children into their late thirties and early forties. I have no doubt that you can tell me exactly what kind of special Hell that was like.

As is always the case, in a war between biology and ideology, biology ALWAYS wins. And the God of Biomechanics takes no prisoners- so if a woman insists on picking a fight with him, she should not be surprised when she finds herself sitting on the canvas, stunned by pain and shock, and weeping copiously.

There is always a price to be paid for human folly- and there is no greater folly in our modern age, in my opinion, than this nonsensical notion that women can and should delay motherhood into their thirties.

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