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Putting Off Motherhood May Be Riskier Than Women Think

By amberdoty |

These days women are waiting longer than ever to start a family. As reported by NPR, a new study funded by the bio-pharmaceutical company EMD Serono, shows that today’s women plan to be pregnant seven years later on average than their mothers were with their first child.  However, the decision to put off baby-making until their 30s or 40s may come at a higher price than women are aware of.

While many do understand that their fertility declines as they age, most underestimate by how much. When questioned, a majority of women believed the chance of conception on the first try in their 30s was around 80%. The reality? Less than 30%. When asked the same question about becoming pregnant in their 40s, women believed they had a 40% chance, while statistics show that women in this age bracket actually have less than a 10% chance of becoming pregnant on the first go around.

The study also shows that women underestimate the length of time it may take to become pregnant while overestimating the success of fertility treatments.

Is it any wonder that women have a skewed perception of the ease of becoming pregnant at what is, like it or not, classified as “advanced maternal age?” The growing trend of 40-something celebrity moms, many of which do not admit to requiring fertility treatments, add to the illusion that time’s toll on our ability to conceive is not that significant.

Couple that to the rise of women in the workplace and the reduced societal pressure on young women to marry and settle down at an early age and you have an entire generation approaching a fertility crisis they may not see coming. It begs the question, should we be educating our daughters on the risk they take in delaying the start of their family or would doing so be perceived as an attack on the independence women have fought for and gained in recent decades?

Perhaps the message that putting off motherhood to climb the corporate ladder may forfeit your chance of conception is one that some women just don’t want to hear.

Photo credit: Flickr

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About amberdoty



Amber Doty is a writer, scientist, wife, and mother to two boys. On Babble, Amber wrote for both Strollerderby and KidScoop about parenting news, pop culture, raising school-age children and general parenting tips. More of her work can be found on her website, The Daily Doty.

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0 thoughts on “Putting Off Motherhood May Be Riskier Than Women Think

  1. Joanne Hader says:

    In addition to decreased fertility there are other challenges women need to be aware of when planning to delay starting a family. The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) recently released a report on the health effects of pergnancy over age 35, it is available for download at

    The good news is more that 80% of pregnancies and deliveries are uneventful and babies are healthy. The cautionary note in the report is, in a nutshell, there more pregnancy complications and interventions during delivery for moms age 35 or over and babies are smaller and often premature – bringing along associated health challenges.

    The best advise from a two-time mom over age 35 is: be as healthy as you can when you start your journey (think don’t smoke, do eat well, and exercise) and go into it with your eyes wide open–know the risks, be real about the disappointments, and stay focused.

  2. Bunnytwenty says:

    I don’t know anyone who’s putting off parenthood to “climb the corporate ladder.” In fact, I don’t know anyone who’s climbing a corporate ladder of any kind. what I do know is a lot of women who haven’t met the right guy to have a family with yet. This whole bizarre angle of work-over-family that pops up in every article like this bears NO relation to reality and I don’t know why people aren’t angrier about that.

  3. amberdoty says:

    Great point, Bunnytwenty. I think there are women out there who haven’t met the right guy yet.

    In writing about this I had women in mind who actively choose to NOT have children because they think it would mean sacrificing their careers or the carefree days of their 20s.

    I work as a pharmaceutical scientist and I know MANY women that don’t have children, are in their early 30s, and have no qualms about saying they are waiting until they are in a better place in their career to do so.

    Whether those women know the statistics on fertility in their later years or not is unknown to me. That’s what this article (and the study) is about.

  4. says:

    “Perhaps the message that putting off motherhood to climb the corporate ladder may forfeit your chance of conception is one that some women just don’t want to hear.” That’s a little harsh, don’t you think? The reasons that women delay having children are probably much more complicated and nuanced than “climbing the corporate ladder,” and many of them result in BETTER parenting ability (financial stability, maturity, stronger relationships with a partner, etc.) The reality is that biology has not evolved with the changes in modern lifestyle; increased lifespan, universal importance on educational attainment, etc. mean that people in general are starting families later in life than they were as recently as the previous generation. The reason behind those delays in procreation are not bad things; arguably, they lead to much more positive outcomes for society in many regards. Perhaps this evolution to delay having children, thereby limiting the number of children people are having, is a GOOD thing. From a very big-picture perspective, I think our crowded planet, escalating consumption of limited natural resources, and straining social safety net would naturally benefit from a decline in fertility, however unfortunate that may feel at the individual level. But the assumption that declines in fertility are always bad, and can be attributed to the inferred “greed” of women trying to establish a stable career path, is pretty short-sighted, in my book.

  5. amberdoty says:

    I definitely didn’t mean to limit the scope of the reasons why women wait to have children until later in life to career. I think all of the things you have listed (financial stability, maturity, etc) are things women take into consideration when deciding to put off starting a family.

    The point I was trying to shed light on is that, regardless of the reason for making the choice to delay pregnancy, women polled in this study are unaware of the drastic decline in their fertility.

    Personally, I had no idea. I knew that fertility declined, but definitely was unaware of how much.

  6. Jackie says:

    I put off having a baby because of my career. Most of my friends also didn’t start having babies until their mid thirties because of career choices. I started trying to get pregant when I was 32 years old. It took 2 years to get pregnant. What a shock that was. I’m 36 years old now and I have been trying for over a year to get pregnant for child number 2. But I don’t regret waiting. I have a nice lifestyle with my family. But the sacrifice I’ve made is that I know I will have a smaller family than I wanted. You can’t have everything :(

  7. Lisa says:

    Bunnytwenty- YES, THIS EXACTLY.

  8. Meagan says:

    I’m pretty sure the chances of getting pregnant on your first try are NEVER 80%. Hell, even in “The Sims” it’s only 50/50.

  9. Linda, t.o.o. says:

    @Amber, does the source material say anything about overall conception odds (versus just “on the first try”) On a personal note, I’d ahve been a terrible mom in my 20s. I didn’t even get married until 28. Had my first kid at 31 and my last kid at 40.

  10. Bunnytwenty says:

    “I think there are women out there who haven’t met the right guy yet.”
    I would wager that those women are the majority of women who don’t have kids until later in life. Again: I don’t know a single woman in her 30s/40s who is putting off childbearing because of her career. And most of the women I know in their 30s/40s aren’t married or partnered. I’m sure the career thing happens – it’s just that the fact that it’s the only thing the media talks about when I haven’t seen it at all in my life strikes me as anti-working-women bias, rather than truthful reporting on a real phenomenon. If it were truthful, then it would include stories like, y’know, those of EVERYONE I know. I don’t think my life is that rarefied.

  11. amberdoty says:

    I think the point people are making about the success rate on the first try never being at 80% is a good one. I’ll have to look into the statistics on women in their 20s.

    Bunnytwenty, I recognize the point you are making that you don’t know any women putting off children because of their career, but they are out there. I know a ton of them in my career field as a scientist.

    This story wasn’t about women who haven’t found a partner. This story was about women who actively choose not to have children until later in life. As the opening paragraph states, women today plan, on average, to be pregnant 7 years later than their mothers were.

    Women who haven’t chosen a partner is the subject of another article entirely.

  12. cliff says:

    ” This whole bizarre angle of work-over-family that pops up in every article like this bears NO relation to reality and I don’t know why people aren’t angrier about that.”
    Because there is this “Men make more than women” propaganda going around, and because most women want to work. WAY more women than men now attend university, and they want to use their training in their career.

    Women do NOT “make less” than men. When you look at individuals in the same positions, working the same number of hours per week and the same number of years, make approximately the same amount. It is only when you look at all women and all men is there an apparent income gap. It is because women work a lot less hours, and a lot less hours than men do.

    If you are a woman, and you want to make the same as a man, then you have to work the same amount as a man, and that causes problems with your home/marriage/baby schedule. It is very difficult to work 80/90 hours per week every week of every year and still have a family and babie(s).

    I personally think we would all be better off if we worked less, took more vacation, and spent more time with our families. If all men did this, and took as much time away from work as women do, then there would be no apparent gap in lifetime earnings between men and women.

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