Delaying Marriage Increases Childlessness

Sometimes having children is a matter of timing. At Thanksgiving, I learned about two male relatives planning to get married this year for the first time. Both are already in their 30s. One is about to graduate from law school. The other hasn’t quite found his niche in life. They are not unique. Another family member waited until his 40s to say “I do.” He wanted to make sure he had a job, a home and money in the bank before moving forward. A friend in his late 40s did the same, dating the same woman for seven years before he was ready to “settle down.” Now they’re anxious to have children, but it may be too late.

It’s not just the men. Woman also want to get their education and establish their careers before getting tied down with husbands and kids.

An interesting chart on Median Age at First Marriage shows that 50 years ago, males marrying for the first time averaged age 22.8 and females 20.3. Now the numbers are up to 28.2 and 26.1. That doesn’t seem so old, but note that these are averages, meaning some are younger and some are older. Also, many couples live together before they get married. Either way, generally a few years will pass after the wedding before they’re ready to have children. And if the marriage fails, as more than 40 percent of first marriages do, by the time they remarry, they may well be close to 40.

As my aunt, weary after her day of cooking and serving Thanksgiving dinner, noted a few days ago, the next generation seems to be taking its time getting married, having families and taking over the holiday hosting. In short, growing up. And you know what? There wasn’t a single baby or child under age 18 at our Thanksgiving celebration.

On the surface, it seems wise to make sure all the pieces are in place before getting married and having kids. Most of us in the boomer generation and before married younger, and those marriages didn’t always last. I was 22 when I married my first husband, but I was single again six years later. It might have been better to wait.

But there’s a big problem with getting married (or remarried) later in life. If you’re reading this blog, I’m sure you already know what it is. We women only have so many years when we can get pregnant and safely deliver babies. By our mid-30s, it’s already more difficult and by our 40s, it’s a real problem. We read about unusual situations where older women have babies, and we hear about the miracles of various fertility treatments, but for most of us, the door closes around 40.

For couples who can’t reach agreement on whether or not to have children, the deadline looms big and scary. What if they make the wrong decision? Should the one who wants children leave the one who doesn’t before it’s too late? If you wait too long, the choice is made by biology.

What do you think about this? Has delayed marriage played a part in your childless situation? 

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3 thoughts on “Delaying Marriage Increases Childlessness

  1. I did not marry until I was 42. I spent the time getting a Ph.D. in a scientific discipline and trying to build my career. I met some men through the years – most were intimidated by what I was doing, some were not, but they ended up not being the right person to settle with. I know other women who had a similar career path and managed to find the right man, get married and have babies at an early enough age, AND have an outstanding career. None of these women are divorced, they are all in solid marriages. In my case, the late-in-life marriage may be due to pursuing a career, but also a bit of bad luck in finding the right person at an earlier age. It's pointless to think that I could have done anything differently. If I had, I would not be doing a job that I love, and it's also possible that I would not be with the man who I love now.

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  2. I led a wandering life as a single person and then met my now husband who has a similar spirit. He was never inclined to have children and I was ambivalent about children at the time of getting married. Several years into the marriage I felt the strong desire to have children. He was willing to adopt but not have our own. So we pursued adoption for a few long, stressful years and finally he had enough. We both realized we were boxing ourselves in through the adoption process, curbing our wandering spirits. But it has been a harder journey for me to let go of this dream of being a mother. I can see that it would be difficult to parent with my husband because of his lack of desire to be a father and his deep focus on social justice issues. I am approaching 40 and also appear to have fertility issues so leaving him and running around to get pregnant will probably end up unsuccessful. Also, my life is pretty rich without children. But I often feel sadness and resentment when most of my female friends make Facebook posts about their children or when I find out a friend is pregnant. I cannot help but think I have chosen poorly, even though my life is brimming with good things. I am sorting through these mixed emotions.

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