Put Off Having a Child? Your Pandemic Decision Guide
Finances, biology and happiness
The pandemic is hard on us all — but spare a thought for those with small children, forced to balance work and childcare, closed daycares, and entertain bored, lonely kids during lockdowns.
Millions of couples have postponed weddings because of the coronavirus, and others are reconsidering whether to have a child now.
The good news? While at the end of the day, only you and your partner know the right time to have children, the data suggests that for most people, putting off having children for a year or two isn’t such a catastrophe. It could even tilt your family finances — and even happiness — in a positive direction.
Employment and income
With some 30 million people across the U.S. under- or unemployed, right now may not be the best time to leave the workforce, go from a dual- to single-income household or attempt to negotiate a change in responsibilities. Finding daycare is always hard, but in the pandemic it has become impossible for many. One estimate suggests that without significant government investment, and soon, 40% of daycare centers will be forced to close, according to the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
For highly skilled women, having a child comes at a significant cost, though waiting can help reduce that cost. A National Bureau of Economic Research study from 2011 found that having a child at 25 would cost a highly skilled woman more than $300,000 in lost lifetime wages, compared to someone with equivalent skills who never had children. By delaying five years, and starting a family at age 30, the income penalty drops about $70,000 to about $230,000.
An online calculator can help you estimate the cost to your household of leaving the workforce.
Ability to conceive
It’s neither just nor reasonable, but women face unequal costs to their fertility by waiting, compared to men. Peak reproductive years are between the teens and late 20s, while fertility starts to decline at the age of 30. (Some mothers are surprised — and not always pleasantly — to learn that women who become pregnant over the age of 35 are sometimes referred to by medical personnel as having a “geriatric pregnancy.”)
Studies with participants born in the last 100 years generally suggest that waiting an extra year or two mostly doesn’t make much of a difference to fertility. One large study of 2,820 women, published in the journal Fertility and Sterility in 2013, found that 78% of women age 35 to 40 will conceive within a year, compared with 84% of women age 20 to 34.
So, is there a fertility cliff? Not exactly, says fertility expert Nick Raine-Fenning. Instead, women experience “a gradual decline” in fertility from 30 onward, and a gradual increase in the likelihood of miscarriage or infertility. But waiting comes with other risks, giving you less flexibility down the track in terms of how many children you are able to have. Moreover, if you or your partner do experience fertility problems, they can be harder to tackle with medical intervention the older you are.
Childbearing and happiness
A curious upside to having children later: It might make you happier. A 2014 study published in the journal Demography found that the older parents were when they had their first child, the happier they were. First-time parents over the age of 35 remained happier than they were pre-children more than a decade later, suggesting a positive relationship with age and stability.
People who became parents between the ages of 23 and 34 experienced a short burst of happiness before and after their child’s birth, which dropped back to a pre-child baseline after a couple of years. People who started having children between the ages of 18 and 22 were actually made less happy by having children.