Latest Guilt Trip for Mothers

Steel yourselves, sisters: Here's the latest guilt trip for mothers (double dose for working moms who delay childbearing to establish selves in career). You need to have children before you turn 25.

This comes our way from a respected husband-and-wife research team at the University of Chicago, whose latest findings show that children born to mothers under 25 have double the chance of living to 100 and beyond. Data shows the father's age to be less important (of course!).

All of this was reported in a June 23 Reuter's article titled Key to Long Life May Be Mom's Age. This kind of reporting on complex issues facing mothers, packaged as objective data but infused with a finger-wag at women, drives me crazy. For instance, the researcher was quoted as saying, "The finding that children born to young women are more likely to live to 100 may have important social implications...because many women postpone their childbearing to later ages because of career demands." Subtext: Working women are selfish because we put our careers before motherhood!

What mom doesn't want her children to live forever? But the reality -- also from Drs. Gavrilova, reported in the New York Times last year -- is that fewer than 2 in every 10,000 Americans live to age 100. No matter what we moms do, there is a .02 percent chance of our beloved offspring living into a second century.

So, really, there is hardly any meaningful reason to report this data in mainstream media, except for idle curiosity about the latest arcane scientific findings -- or to twist the guilt knife a little deeper into mothers who want to work or join the Peace Corps or go to graduate school or do anything else that 20-somethings feel like doing with their lives before they take on the joyous, complicated, never-ending burden of motherhood.

I posed these questions to Dr. Natalia Gavrilova, who, by the way, has one daughter (Linda Hirshman would approve), who was born when Dr. G. was 22. This is what the researcher said:

"Our data convinced us so far that we are perhaps on something potentially very important that needs to be thoroughly studied further. At this point of time it would be irresponsible for us to jump to practical recommendations. However, our data are in agreement with the vast biomedical literature suggesting that the risk of many child diseases is increasing with maternal age. Obviously, while discussing the health benefits of young motherhood, we are not talking about teen mothers here."

Since she brought up "practical recommendations," I asked what advice she had for female college students today, as they contemplate the balance of starting their careers with starting a family.

"Talk to your husband and parents for advice on whether this is financially and logistically feasible. If yes, then do what you like."

Need I say more?

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  July 10, 2006; 9:40 AM ET  | Category:  Research
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Another way to look at things: Those mothers/parents who decide to wait until they are a bit longer are preventing the world from becoming even more over-populated. Always another way to look at things.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 10, 2006 10:03 AM

How about asking her about those of us who don't even plan to be *married* by 25. Yea, ask my husband. Surrrrreee.

Posted by: student | July 10, 2006 10:04 AM

who cares? WHo really wants to be that old anyway.

Posted by: scarry | July 10, 2006 10:07 AM

"'Talk to your husband and parents for advice on whether this is financially and logistically feasible.'"

Hmmm, I didn't meet my future husband until I was 28, and we didn't marry until I was 30. I'd consider that a slight logistical problem! Of course, I'm also not a farmer living in the West at the turn of the 20th Century, so the study would indicate that my kids are SOL regardless -- although my daughter, as the firstborn, might have an outside shot. :-)

You know, there are some pretty significant issues to think about when deciding whether to have kids earlier or later (personally, I was FAR too immature to have taken responsibility for someone else's life at 22-23 yrs old), and the possibility of an epidemiological link to a 0.004% chance of living to 100 doesn't even make the short list.

The one thing I am truly sad about, though, is that no matter how long my kids live, because I started at 35 instead of 25, I am going to miss seeing 10 of those years. Of course, when I was 25, I hadn't had kids yet, so I had no clue how much that would matter to me once I did! But hey, you make the best decision you can with what you have; I am a far better mother now than I would have been then, so I hope I provide them a better start in life, even if I'm not around for the great-grandkids.

Posted by: Laura | July 10, 2006 10:07 AM

Reality check: My grandmother lived to 94. She outlived her husband, brothers, and one of her children and spent her last few years in a nursing home fighting dementia. I loved her dearly, but extreme old age doesn't look that great to me. This news story seems a little overblown.

Posted by: Not so Sure | July 10, 2006 10:10 AM

This seems like a big conclusion to reach without identifying, and excluding, other significant contributions to health and longevity. Since I live in the West, I'm happy to see that geography was at least mentioned. Interestingly, the correlation between the West and longevity was not explained. Then again, neither was the correlation between maternal age and longevity. There seem to be a lot of variables that didn't make it into this study - maternal health and nutrition, educational level of one or both parents, financial security of the parents, childhoold nutrition and medical care - to name a few. I noted the quote "the risk of many child diseases is increasing with maternal age" but wondered which "child diseases" the researches connected to increasing maternal age.

I agree with Leslie that the intent of reporting the study - the findings of which seem incomplete at best - appears to have more to do with adding to the guilt of working mothers who "delay" childbearing and less to do with concrete and supported facts which could be at all helpful.

Posted by: SS | July 10, 2006 10:13 AM

This all seems strange to me--life expectancy continues to go up at the same time that more women have children later in life. I would think advances in medicine, knowledge of nutrition, etc. would more than make up for any fractional advantage to women having children before they turn 25.

Posted by: Tempest in a Teapot | July 10, 2006 10:15 AM

And I didn't meet my husband until I was 35 -- and not for lack of trying. Oh well, so our child will die at 90 instead of 100. But she will have had responsible, loving, mature parents -- something she wouldn't have had if I'd procreated in my 20s.

Posted by: sweetpotater | July 10, 2006 10:23 AM

This is the sort of research that I find superfluous. It has no credibility to me as I cannot see that it has any relevance for "the real world". In my own family, my g-g-grandmother was in her mid-thirties when my g-grandfather was born and he lived to be 100.

I wonder who funds this sort of research?

Posted by: Viennamom | July 10, 2006 10:24 AM

My mother would not want me to get that old. As a matter of fact, she does not want to be that old. We've spoken about this many times after watching my grandmother (now 95) and my great-grandmother (lived into her 100s) live amazingly full lives until they were each about 75. From then on it was pure torture. Both went blind and got dimensia. My grandmother is barely lucid, but when she is all she does is ask if its ok to die. Mt greatgrandmother was the same way for the last 10-15 years of her life. This is not something my mother and I look forward too - and my mother thinks of it often because of 1) caring for her mother and 2) the fact that she is 65 and feels like this is her destiny too. So, the fact that she had me when she was in her late 30s doesn't scare me too much - given this 'research', it kind of makes me feel better.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 10, 2006 10:25 AM

This research is so flawed that it's a surprise that anyone should even care about the "results." First, it's a new phenomenon that women have kids after 25. The first women who put their careers first and had kids after 25 cannot possibly have kids to be that old to be the subjects of the studies. Those children who were close to 100 must have had mothers who were born in an era where women would have kids before 25. Think about it. How can the researchers find out if these modern women's kids will live to 100?

Posted by: Washingtonian | July 10, 2006 10:26 AM

I've come to think that the media needs to sell stuff -- so they persist in publishing this kind of 'helpful' research. It keeps people consuming their products.

I don't think any of these things really have a big weight. I'm tired of being told I can avoid this or that by changing my lifestyle. The impact those things have is totally overblown.

Check that guilt trip off my list.

Posted by: RoseG | July 10, 2006 10:27 AM

A brief endorsement of the liabilities of increasing the numbers of what gerentologists call the "old-old" (i.e., people over 85) in our society. Although some people do very well after that age, there are many for whom life is, to put it mildly, no longer a pleasure. The burden of dealing w/ people who may have multiple chronic illnesses and be unable to care for themselves falls heavily on families and imposes high costs on society.

I don't think there's anything about this study that would affect my choice of when to bear a child.

Posted by: THS | July 10, 2006 10:29 AM

"Here's the latest guilt trip for mothers ... You need to have children before you turn 25."

To paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt, no one can make you feel guilty without your consent. I think my kids will forgive me for not providing the perfect conditions for living to be over 100--even assuming that they aspired to it. (Having had most of my female relatives live into their late 90s, _I_ don't aspire to it.)

Posted by: Historian | July 10, 2006 10:31 AM

There's a shocker. Having child before age 25 is better for the health of that child than waiting until you're older. What a concept!!

They should publish their finding in the "Journal of the Completely Obvious"

Posted by: Frugal Ferdinand | July 10, 2006 10:37 AM

People can die younger (in thier 60s and 70s) and still spend the last 10 years with dementia or in otherwise awful health conditions. So, dying 'younger' may not spare you that.
There is nothing wrong with researching something, even if nobody likes the answers. It may be a bad study, but the attention it gets may mean that a good, thorough study will follow it. With all the advances in medicine that are allowing women to have children later and later (Didn't I just read about a 62 year old new mother in England?), maybe we should know how this affects the long term health of their children.

Posted by: wls | July 10, 2006 10:37 AM

The only guilt for me is having wasted 2 minutes of my life while reading such crap.

Posted by: Steve | July 10, 2006 10:42 AM

Hi Historian -- I understand what you are getting at, about giving "permission" to let someone else make you feel guilty...it's a good point, worth striving for.

But I also think that when you are bombarded with authoritarian messages (from newspapers, politicians, family members, etc) all consciously or unconsciously designed to make you feel guilty about your choices as a mother, they become increasingly hard to ignore. They start to feel like wallpaper surrounding you.

Do you have any good suggestions -- mantras, if you will -- for ignoring these frequent messages?

Posted by: Leslie | July 10, 2006 10:42 AM

I looked at the original article reporting these findings, and they are SERIOUSLY flawed. The researchers identified people over 100, and then went back to see how old their mothers were. But if you want to know how the age of the mother affects lifespan, you need to start with the mothers and track all children. In the past, women tended to have children earlier, so of course more people who lived to be 100 had younger mothers. Think of this way--let's say you have 100 centenarians. 20 of them had mothers in the older group, 80 had mothers in the younger group. Sure looks like the mother's age affects the age of the child, right? But if 20 percent of women have children after they turned 25, and 80 percent before, then you would expect that more centenarians had younger mothers, because most people had younger mothers. You have to start with all children in order to see how the mother's age affects the odds of an individual child living to be 100.

Posted by: Not a statistician | July 10, 2006 10:43 AM

How ridiculous that something that may, MAY affect such an insignificant number of people -- .02% -- can be labeled important. But I do feel sorry for anyone who, based on this, would feel guilty about when they start their family. Best thing you can do for your kids is to have them when you are financially & emotionally ready and before 25, most of us just aren't there yet.

Posted by: Raia | July 10, 2006 10:44 AM

I'm with Scarry (as always). Who cares?

LMS, you are a basket case of guilt. Your entries are absolutely my least favorite part of reading this blog. Why can't the Post find a smarter writer to blog about this subject??

Posted by: Anonymous | July 10, 2006 10:46 AM

Besides, if you're older when you have children, then that means your children will be younger when they have to take care of you. I imagine if offspring are already retired by the time they care for their parents, there's a bit more of a financial burden on said offspring. However if you wait to have kids until you're in your 40s, then your offspring will still be employed when you need care and can offer better care (not to mention be young and spry enough to fetch your medication).

Posted by: advantages of older w/ kids | July 10, 2006 10:46 AM

I'm still mulling over some of the LInda Hirschman conversation the other day -- but I think this comment relates.
Back when I went to Snooty East Coast Women's College in the 1980's, NO ONE ever told me there would be opportunity costs associated with my actions! Somehow or other, I was sold the bill of goods that having a full-time, high powered career would be great for me, my family, my kids, my bank account, my health and so forth. A win-win situation.

And many of us have been surprised and stunned to find out that frequently, by choosing one action, we have to give up something else. And the media has decided to start bashing us over the head with this concept -- since as Americans, we're not big on opportunity costs. (Choose between the wide screen TV and the boat? What the heck, I'll just charge them both and borrow against my house!)

That's why we've been informed that
A. Staying home means giving up income
B. Working means giving up income -actually daycare is still expensive
C. Staying home means your children's health will suffer (since daycare is good for the little buggers)
D. Working means your children's health will suffer (since daycare is full of germs)
E. Working will harm your children psychologically
F. Working produces well-balanced children
G. Working is good for your marriage
H. Working is bad for your marriage
I. Holding off on child-bearing is bad
J. HOlding off on child-bearing is good
You get the idea.

However, what IS strange about all these studies, is that somehow or other, women are the only ones who somehow feel guilty for having pick only one outcome and having to pass on another. We feel bad for missing out on the opporutnity costs.

So, just for fun, think back everybody on who you were dating when you were 25. Can you actually imagine having had a child with that person? Do you honestly think you'd still be married? I'm pretty sure I wouldn't.

Posted by: I've Been Thinking | July 10, 2006 10:47 AM

I briefly scanned the paper that was done. I think the media tends to take a portion of a report and say that's the link and say its a definitive link. I thought the report was taking different factors that could impact a person's longevity but scientists I don't think say these things are definitive -- I also don't think its fair that Leslie said that one of the scientists had their child at age 22 -- if these are leading researchers at the University of Chicago that would not factor into their findings. I don't know how it is possible to link the age of the mother with the longevity of the child's life at this point since women having children later in life seems to be a relatively new thing. Most of our mothers were in their 20s when we were born (my mother was one of the "older" mothers, having me at age 26) -- the study is reporting on people who are old now -- their parents of course would have been younger. The study also report that where you were born and birth order as well -- so am I preventing my second born from living to be 100 because we live on the east coast and he isn't the oldest in the family?
Having taken statistics and econometrics in college, you can substitute any factor for any formula to get a certain outcome(ok its been 20+ years since I've taken a class but I would be interested to hear from any economists who read the report and their reaction)
Would also be interested in who funded the study? That has an impact too -- you know when they say that researchers have found that chocolate is good for you that study is likely funded by manufacturers of chocolate.

Posted by: typical working mother | July 10, 2006 10:48 AM

Data is flawed. Any 100 year old person living today was born in 2006 or before. Health care and prenatal medicine have...ummm, changed. There might be an advantage; there might not.

Posted by: Silly Data | July 10, 2006 10:48 AM

Washingtonian said: This research is so flawed that it's a surprise that anyone should even care about the "results." First, it's a new phenomenon that women have kids after 25. The first women who put their careers first and had kids after 25 cannot possibly have kids to be that old to be the subjects of the studies. Those children who were close to 100 must have had mothers who were born in an era where women would have kids before 25. Think about it. How can the researchers find out if these modern women's kids will live to 100?


Having one's FIRST child after the age of 25 is more common in recent years than previously, but having subsequent children after that age is hardly a new phenomenon. My own 82-year-old mother had her second child at 25 and the last one (of six) at 40. The children of her own mother, who had 11 childen between approximately 22 and 40, would be old enough to be more than 100, had they lived that long.

Posted by: THS | July 10, 2006 10:49 AM

I have to take exception to something sweetpotater said: "But she will have had responsible, loving, mature parents -- something she wouldn't have had if I'd procreated in my 20s."

I procreated in my 20s. I gave birth to my daughter 2 weeks shy of my 26th birthday. I had been with my husband for almost 6 years, married for 3 of them. We started planning for her 4 years before she was born. I would tend to say that would make us rather mature and responsible. My husband postponed his career to stay at home until she was in school full time. I would tend to say that sacrifice indicates that we love her very much.

I don't think you have to wait to have a child in order to be mature, loving, and responsible. My daughter is a wonderful person who knows how deeply she is loved and cherished by both parents. And we're still in our early 30s.

Posted by: Plenty mature | July 10, 2006 10:49 AM

Conservative NY Times columnist David Brooks has said he thinks it's a good idea (and a woman-friendly idea) for women to bear children early, when they're most fertile and have loads of energy. He supports the idea of women entering the workforce later in life (30's and 40's) when they're older, more experienced, more focused, and supposedly have school-age children.

But I wonder how that would work? What would it feel like to build a career from scratch at 30 or 35? I don't know about you but I remember putting in LONG hours and doing all manner of grunt work when I first started my career in my twenties. I'm doubtful I'd be as eager to do the same in my thirties or forties with school age children waiting for me at home each night. And what about relationships with male peers? Would a woman's working-world peers be men her age, who entered the work-force in their twenties and accumulated years of valuable experience while she was raising kids? Or would they be the twenty-somethings who are just gtetting started? And lastly, what about age discriminination which I hear starts around forty-somehting these days?

Hmmm... Maybe I'm being pessimistic (and PLEASE correct me if I am) but it sounds like this plan could work against women in the long run. Even though there IS something appealing about its fertility-friendliness.

Posted by: Friend | July 10, 2006 10:50 AM

I've seen this research before; has anyone thought about the inherent bias: that the majority of people who are that old today or earlier were born when women regularly had children in their teens. We won't know for another several decades what the total effect on the aging population is for people born to older mothers.

Posted by: Newlywed | July 10, 2006 10:52 AM

Oops...any person eligible to be studied was born in 1906 or before.

Posted by: Silly Data | July 10, 2006 10:53 AM

I concur with Historian. This sort of pablum can only make you feel guilty if you allow it to. Leslie's comment "But I also think that when you are bombarded with authoritarian messages (from newspapers, politicians, family members, etc) all consciously or unconsciously designed to make you feel guilty about your choices as a mother, they become increasingly hard to ignore", aserts your own observations are not valid with regard to the observations of those of so-called persons of authority. What makes all of those people (politicians, journalists, family members etc) authorities on anything? Just because they say so and print their blather? They often times do not tell the truth anyway.

Posted by: Viennamom | July 10, 2006 10:55 AM

Plentymature -

sweetpotater seemed to be talking about herself. Some of my friends became parents in their 20s - some young 20s. Some were definately mature enough to handle it, some weren't. And I know I wasn't. Just b.c someone says they wouldnt have been a mature parent in their 20s, it is not a comment on you.

This is one of hte problms with this society. Anybody makes a remark about what the do or would have done or felt they could or could not do and someone else feels like they're being denigrated. REally, seems like SP was just talking about herself.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 10, 2006 10:58 AM

"Do you have any good suggestions -- mantras, if you will -- for ignoring these frequent messages?"

Oh, for God's sake. You just do it. Quit paying attention to it. You treat it like any other bad habit. When you find yourself thinking about it, start thinking about baseball or North Korea or what to have for dinner.

It might also help to realize that allowing this sort of crap to make you feel guilty is extremely self-indulgent and pretty immature. It's not an attractive quality, and it's not one that should be granted patience or respect.

Posted by: Lizzie | July 10, 2006 11:07 AM

Leslie, just remind yourself that on rare occasions, when a politician does actually tell the truth, all hell breaks loose.

Posted by: Father of 4 | July 10, 2006 11:07 AM

While the study may have produced useful data (that could be used the basis for research of mother-to-child immunities or something like that), I agree with Leslie that the report of the study is skewed. For example, "The finding that children born to young women are more likely to live to 100 may have important social implications...because many women postpone their childbearing to later ages because of career demands." The scientists do not need to speculate why women are postponing birthing; to do so is to imply somthing that was not part of the hypothesis.

Also, "our data are in agreement... suggesting that the risk of many child diseases is increasing with maternal age. Obviously, while discussing the health benefits of young motherhood, we are not talking about teen mothers here."

How is that last statement obvious? If the data show that babies of younger mothers have fewer childhood diseases, wouldn't that suggest that the younger you are when you have a child, the better it is for your child? But to comfirm that would be to endorse unwed mothers, which is a big no-no.

I would not be surprised if the study were funded by a right-wing, fundamental Christian group whose ultimate goal (through banning abortion and morning after pills and similar attacks on women's rights) is to use the law to force women to live according to their religion.

But that's just my opinion.

Posted by: Meesh | July 10, 2006 11:10 AM

My 98-year-old grandmother -- still lucid, still in good health, still living on her own -- had both of her children before the age of 20, let alone 25. Both died in their early 60s. I agree that this story is designed to make women feel guilty and anxious about their choices. It reminds me of the overblown story, later discredited, that women who hadn't wed by a certain age had a better chance of being killed by a terrorist than having a happy married life. And no, I wouldn't have wanted to have a child with the person I was dating in my early 20s. He was too immature, and so was I.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 10, 2006 11:10 AM

The intent of the studies and the data, as others have said, seems incomplete at best. OR for that matter, why is it assumed that living to 100 is actually a good thing -- have the people touting this actually spent a significant amount of time with people who older than 85? There is a lot of suffering and infirmity in that age group.

However, what I cannot understand is how this could this be read as something to feel guilty about. If you assume that there are authoritarian messages (from newspapers, politicians, family members, etc) all consciously or unconsciously designed to make you feel guilty about your choices as a mother" then you will always feel guilty. No question. If you are looking for the slight and the bad intention, they are very easy to find.

Of all the possible interpretations of this article, why, Leslie, did you chose yours? That says something about you, not the researchers.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 10, 2006 11:11 AM

It seems to me that the factors that influenced the timing of women's pregnancies in 1890-1893 (the period the centenarians were born) are very different than the factors that cause me, a 23-year old, to establish my career before I think about having children. Perhaps babies who were born to younger mothers were more likely to have grandparents around to provide support for the parents?

Posted by: Anonymous | July 10, 2006 11:13 AM

I had my first child at 20 and my third and last child at 30. I was sort of a "natural" as a mom and loved and enjoyed all three kids -- maybe because I was one of several siblings and my parents were great role models. Whatever the reasons, I can say in retrospect that my younest child had a much more mature and level-headed mother that my first. As a working, fifty + woman, I would have to say that living to be a hundred is over-rated and I'm not sure I would, given the chance, want to live to be that old. The other day a couple I know was denied the opportunity to provide a home for a puppy that, as a stray, was in desperate need of a home. Why? Because they were "too old" - mind you, they are in their early 70's (so they could have another 30 years to go!), both retired and have a very nice home with a fenced yard. In addition, they have always had dogs that had great lives until they died from old age. My observations indicate that the older you get, the more some slightly younger person feels that they have to tell you what you should and should not do. No thanks!

Posted by: Maria | July 10, 2006 11:16 AM

Leslie, I do my best to ignore opportunitites for guilt about things that are unimportant (women's magazines implying that I need new eyeshadow), can't be changed (not having had children before age 25) or aren't problems (not being straight). I have enough worries that I don't need to create more by making bad-science studies into a personal guilt trip. It's not all about me. :)

Things I can and should change, I will try to change if I learn about them, but I've only got so much energy.

Posted by: Historian | July 10, 2006 11:20 AM

Oh, please. Who cares about this? The more important information for parents and prospective parents is that our country is likely to be reeling from an economic breakdown within 10 years. Global warming will bring who knows what climactic changes. Gas will likely go to $4.00 a gallon in two years. Some economists predict that more than half of us will live our retirement with a greatly diminished standard of living due to failure to save enough for our "golden years".

And you're worried because you might not give your child a 100-year life span?

Posted by: Madison | July 10, 2006 11:22 AM

Meesh-you're right, that's all the right wing Christian conservatives want.

Actually, we (I must be one of those people that you have so much contempt for) are just trying to keep babies from being killed. Short and simple. Sorry for going out of my way for someone else's life (the baby's not yours).

Posted by: Lou | July 10, 2006 11:27 AM

Guilt comes from inside, not from outside. To the extent that you allow other people, or "the media" to "make" you feel guilty based on their values, rather than your own, you demonstrate either a debilitating susceptibility to influence, or a complete lack of confidence in your own values and decision-making abilities.

If your values are strong, and you make decisions and live according to those values, you have no cause to feel guilty.

Posted by: Brian | July 10, 2006 11:30 AM

Once again, they have taken something that could be interesting from a scientific point of view, and made something political and moral of it. The interesting part is to try and understand why and what is happening that would make things turn out that way. Practically speaking I think it matters little if my kids have a better or lesser chance of living to 100. First off I'm not sure I would call living to 100 the make or break issue as to whether you have a good life or not, I am really tempted to say "who cares!". Secondly I would really bet a lot that their life choices after birth have a WHOLE lot more to do with their longevity. So no I am not worried about this one tiny teeny bit as far as guilt goes. And with a daughter 24 years old who is about to enter graduate school, I do NOT want her to worry about this, this is NO time for her to go have a baby!

But scientifically, sure it is interesting to look at such findings and try to learn more about what is different about gestation or a woman's eggs or whatever vs age. That's as far as I would take it though.

Posted by: Catherine | July 10, 2006 11:30 AM

Newlywed said: I've seen this research before; has anyone thought about the inherent bias: that the majority of people who are that old today or earlier were born when women regularly had children in their teens. We won't know for another several decades what the total effect on the aging population is for people born to older mothers.

Because my previous comment is now several
inches back, let me say again that, women were, in the past, likely to have had their FIRST child before the age of 25, but there were plenty of women who had subsequent children after that. Thus, it's not true that it will take decades to determine whether there's an effect of age of mother on longevity.

According to the Population Reference Bureau, the 2000 Census identified 50,000 people age 100 and over in the United States. That's enough to determine whether there's a correlation between maternal age and longevity and to control for some other variables.

Posted by: THS | July 10, 2006 11:35 AM

Historian said, "It's not all about me. :)"

The most simple, best advice I have read for a while.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 10, 2006 11:36 AM

Lou, I doubt anyone here wants to read an abortion debate, so let's just say that we're of differing opinions. And I'm sorry that I offended you or trivialized your motivation. I'm sure everyone in that debate has a good reason to be involved.

Posted by: Meesh | July 10, 2006 11:39 AM

I for one do not take the mass media seriously nor do I pay mind to politicians so to me these are not guilt inducers. Mass media get scientific findings incorrect every day of the week or over-sensationalize one minor aspect of the work. Relatives are a different story but as a well educated adult who checks several sources rather than the same AP or Reuters press release circulated and re-edited in 50 newpapers across the country I try to go to the actual research. Most research papers are preceded by an executive summary or abstract written in language for the lay person to understand. The abstract preceeding this presentation was not well written and the methodologies dubious at best.

As a scientist I feel obliged to point out that this study was described in the mass media not published in a peer reviewed scientific journal. This means that the experts in the field of life-span studies either rejected this study as the tripe that most see it to be or that the researchers themselves know that the data are useless and need to make a splash to keep funding or get a promotion. The article that is cited was based on a presentation to a groups of actuaries so I guess because my kids' mom is old that they will pay higher life insurance rates is the bottom line that I take from this.

Posted by: mommyworks | July 10, 2006 11:39 AM

("The finding that children born to young women are more likely to live to 100 may have important social implications...because many women postpone their childbearing to later ages because of career demands." Subtext: Working women are selfish because we put our careers before motherhood!)

I read this article before Leslie referenced it in the blog. I think that the Subtext is completely incorrect and that Leslie is stretching for ideas for the blog. I didn't think in terms of guilt to mothers at all when I read the article. And I had my children at age 31 and age 35.

Instead, I thought that the social implications would be related to our elderly population and how the fact that many women are delaying childbirth may affect our country's demographics. Social implications such as Social Security, Medicare, medical insurance, need for geriatric doctors,nurses, etc.

I don't know if it is insecurity or self-centeredness that makes some people take everything as a personal affront.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 10, 2006 11:39 AM

I'll add another factor to consider - most young people come out of college with a significant amount of a school debt and struggle to pay rent and student loan bills in their early 20s. I see this as another reason why people put off children.

Posted by: Product of a Working Mother | July 10, 2006 11:41 AM

I think maybe we need a discussion on why mothers are apparently so prone to guilt. Without the suggestion of this blog, it would never have occurred to me that this "study" should induce guilt.

Perhaps more on topic, it does occur to me that as we have children later and later, we are getting more out of sync with our bodies' natural tendencies. I do think it's an interesting topic to think about, although perhaps impossible to have a frank and honest discussion about!

Posted by: curious new mom | July 10, 2006 11:43 AM

In relation to the statement that teenage motherhood is to be avoided, Meesh said: If the data show that babies of younger mothers have fewer childhood diseases, wouldn't that suggest that the younger you are when you have a child, the better it is for your child? But to comfirm that would be to endorse unwed mothers, which is a big no-no.

No, it doesn't suggest that because teenage girls, as opposed to women in their twenties are still maturing physically. One indication of that is what happens to the teeth of teenage mothers. The developing fetus takes the calcium it needs, and the mother's teeth are adversely affected. This is particularly likely to be true for girls who have two or more children while they are still in their teens.

Posted by: THS | July 10, 2006 11:43 AM

So that postscript at the end of Dr. G's email about teen moms, is there some bias against them? Who says a teenager cannot raise a healthy child?

Posted by: Mark S. | July 10, 2006 11:43 AM


I've Been Thinking -Loved what you wrote!

You got it all right. The common denominator of all this research is that all moms, no matter what are choices, end up feeling guilty, one way or the other.

Posted by: Leslie | July 10, 2006 11:44 AM

I note that the divorce rate for marriages that begin before the couple is 20 is nearly double marriages where the couple is over 25 (40% to 24%).

http://www.divorcemag.com/statistics/statsUS.shtml

This would also come from the Department of Stuff You Knew Already as well.

Posted by: SonofCarl | July 10, 2006 11:46 AM

I'm not sure I understand why it's such a benefit for people to live to be 100. We have enough problems providing adequate medical care for our elderly as it is. Unless our social goals shift significantly to increase funding to improve quality of life issues for the elderly (such as accessible mass transit, inexpensive medical care and pharmaceuticals, and assurance that food and housing needs will be met), I think it's irresponsible to argue that women should be having children earlier to improve their chances of living for a long time.

Also, I'm assuming this study excludes such significant factors as socioeconomic status of the mother. Younger mothers in the United States are more likely to have less education, earn less money, be unemployed, and lack health insurance. They are more likely to suffer from malnutrition or to have other unaddressed health problems because of lack of access to proper medical care. Again, I don't think it's socially responsible to urge women to have children earlier (forgoing or deferring education and professional development in the process) if the tradeoff is diminished access to medical care.

Posted by: kgirl | July 10, 2006 11:46 AM

Hmm, I guess I'm in the minority here, but I find this interesting, and feel no guilt at all for having had my daughter at 29. (I met her dad at 25.)

I've not read the study and don't know whether it is flawed, but if it's good research, it's worth pursuing. You never know what the application of any scientific finding will be, and, as a mom, I want to know all about any science related to my child's well-being. Doesn't that just help women to make more informed choices?

As has been pointed out, clearly this is not a reason for someone to have a baby at 25. We all know that. But, it might inform someone's thinking who is deciding whether to have them at 25 or 35.

Posted by: VAMom | July 10, 2006 11:47 AM

THS, I agree with your point. However, the study does not address the effect of the pregnancy on the mother. It is stictly dealing with the health effects for the child. Also, the study refers to women under 25 years of age, not between the ages 20 and 25. Which is why I pointed out that the statement was not supported by the study. It may be right, but not "obvious" or even based on the study.

Posted by: Meesh | July 10, 2006 11:50 AM

Woo hoo! I may live old enough to have TWO hip relacements on the same hip!

Posted by: Working Dad | July 10, 2006 11:52 AM

"I've Been Thinking -Loved what you wrote!

You got it all right. The common denominator of all this research is that all moms, no matter what are choices, end up feeling guilty, one way or the other."

Leslie & I've Been Thinking, your comments are so odd. I don't feel guilty about all the mass-mdeia mommy garbage that is out there. As a human being, I feel guilty sometimes if hurt another human being, but I'm sure that applies to men as well. It saddens me to know that many women are so susceptible to this kind of media nonsense.

Posted by: Viennamom | July 10, 2006 11:53 AM

Guilt: I agree with the poster who said "you just do it" (ignore the bashing over the head of guilt). I don't think mantras are necessary, but I do like the re-write of the Eleanor Roosevelt quote (I believe the original word she used was "inferior", not "guilty", but it certainly applies to both term!)

I have been sitting here trying to think of something I feel guilty about re: parenting. I occasionally feel guilty for yelling at my kids, because I don't think many of us would agree that anything good ever comes from that. But the other "maybe it's good for them, maybe it's bad for them" stuff, I don't ever feel guilty about. I didn't feel guilty when I worked outside the home, and I don't feel guilty now that I'm home. I don't feel guilty that my older children slept in cribs, and I don't feel guilty that my younger children slept (and still sleep with, in the case of the youngest) with us. Etc.

You just have to be thick skinned and completely comfortable with the choices you have made. That's really all there is to it.

"So, just for fun, think back everybody on who you were dating when you were 25. Can you actually imagine having had a child with that person? Do you honestly think you'd still be married? I'm pretty sure I wouldn't. "

I did have a child (two, actually) with the person I was dating at 25 (we were married at 24), and we're not married anymore. I'm not sure it had all that much to do with my age...when I was younger I didn't necessarily date boys/men who weren't good for me or who are different from the man I'm married to now. I think it was just one of those things.

Posted by: momof4 | July 10, 2006 11:57 AM

"The common denominator of all this research is that all moms, no matter what are choices, end up feeling guilty, one way or the other."

You obviously read what's written here, but I don't see how you could be absorbing it if you come out with a whopper like that. Quite a few people have come out strongly against manufactured guilt. I'm more interested in why anyone _would_ feel guilt about this.

As someone else observed, feeling guilty about something that is unimportant and unchangeable is pure self-indulgence.

Posted by: Historian | July 10, 2006 12:01 PM

Leslie, I saw that you wanted a mantra. Here is one my grandfather gave my mother when she had her first child.

"Don't worry. Whatever you do will be wrong."

If you accept that, you don't worry so much about what the right decision is. So you had kids after 30. So what?! It was wrong. So you gave your kids a banana instead of the popsicle they wanted. So what?! It was wrong.

See? It doesn't matter what you choose to do or not do. Someone will think it is the wrong thing to do. Let it go, already.

Posted by: Working Dad | July 10, 2006 12:02 PM

Since she brought up "practical recommendations," I asked what advice she had for female college students today, as they contemplate the balance of starting their careers with starting a family.

"Talk to your husband and parents for advice on whether this is financially and logistically feasible. If yes, then do what you like."

Wow, am I the only one shocked by this advice. Yes Ladies, chat it up with mama and papa, see if they can dig deeper for the dowry or maybe your husband can make a swap for the back corner of the corn field and then you do what you like as you choose to bear the fruit and live under papa and husbands thumb instead of pursuing that pesky college degree.

Hmmm, who could be behind this research????

Posted by: AF | July 10, 2006 12:08 PM

My understanding is that genetically you need to skip a generation and look at the age and health of the grandparents to predict the child's health. It is all unpredictable anyway. My great grandmother gave birth in her 40s and died in her 80s; my grandfather died in his 40s from mustard gas ( WWI) poisioning. Still, with advanced knowledge of what healthy lifestyle can add to one's life, and the competing factors of a degraded environment, this study seems pointless.

Better to ask yourself why you are having a child and what you will be able to provide him or her.

Posted by: anonforthis | July 10, 2006 12:10 PM

All the talk about the current social implications of this study is bunk. Read the study and the accompanying Reuter's article (there are links in LMS's article). Only once does the study mention any implications for current society (the one line that LMS quoted in paragraph three). The main problem I see is the press reporting on scientific issues with little scientific understanding, and blowing findings out of proportion in order to achieve that "wow" factor.

The study itself is highly flawed, and not for the reasons people have suggested. It doesn't say anything about the children of women born today. It is an historical analysis of current centenarians (obviously born 100 years ago). It only includes those for whom good geneaological records exist (i.e. mostly Caucasian). It shows that 63% of centenarians are born to farmers (and probably 63% of all kids too, so that's probably meaningless). It concentrates on birth order as being probably the most significant factor in longevity - but curiously only for female centenarians (birth order seems to have no effect on males centenarians - this didn't seem to be well explained). First borns (females) are more likely to live longer. Their flawed logic is that: a. first borns are healthier, b. first borns are born to younger mothers, so therefore c. younger maternal age is the main contributor of longevity. But they do go on to address some social reasons for long-living first borns (competition for resources, social factors, etc.), and don't explain why they highlight maternal age as the main contributing factor.

Again, the problem is the press pulling small pieces out of scientific studies and not providing full context. Or if they do, it's only later in the article, well after the "wow!" headline. With her article, LMS is guilty of this as well.

As Leslie inquired: "Do you have any good suggestions -- mantras, if you will -- for ignoring these frequent messages?" My suggestion is educate yourself, and help to educate others.

Posted by: Kali | July 10, 2006 12:15 PM


Always remember that the first finding of all research is that more research [in this field] needs to be funded...

"Our data convinced us that [this] needs to be thoroughly studied further"

Posted by: HankC | July 10, 2006 12:20 PM

Having babies is physically a young woman's game, but mentally and economically an older woman's. Life is a trade off. So you kids lives to 99 instead of 100. The only guage of this are the kids born in 1906, who have successfully live to 100.

I wish they would spend time to figure out how I can have one remote for my TV/cable/sat that does not cost $150. That would be research that changes a woman's life.

Posted by: Karen | July 10, 2006 12:28 PM

gauge

Posted by: Karen | July 10, 2006 12:28 PM

Leslie - Don't know if you reference to "wallpaper" was meant to refer to Charlotte Perkins Gilman's story "The Yellow Wallpaper," but if not and you haven't read it, I highly recommend it, to you and all the other contributors here. Easiest thing is to go to www.library.csi.cuny.edu/dept/history/lavender/wallpaper.html -- whole thing is there. The protagonist's "sin" (acc. to the best science of the day, as you'll see -- her husband and brother are both physicians!) is reading and writing; bad for her, dontcha know, and the baby!

Posted by: Melissa | July 10, 2006 12:34 PM

I mean, really.

Who freaking cares?

Posted by: Y'all Need to Chill | July 10, 2006 12:36 PM

AF, I think you're digging for a conspiracy theory. I think most people would agree that the husband has quite a bit of vested interest into whether you're going to have a child or not, and he should most certainly be involved in the planning process. And for a lot of people, parents are about the best resource you have - they've raised children and know things you don't about it. I know on the few occasions I (newly married and childless) have discussed the idea of children with my mom, she has had stories and insights that I just never would have thought of. I'm certainly not going to go up and ask her "so am I ready for kids now?" - that's between me and my husband - but what I expect from my parents and in-laws is advice (which I reserve the right not to take), reassurance, and stories about how we were as children which might help in interpreting our children.

Posted by: SEP | July 10, 2006 12:40 PM

Although I don't think that Leslie was referring to the Gilman story, that's an interesting analogy here. That, after all, is what drove the protagonist crazy in the end: obsessing about the wallpaper until she believed herself trapped in it.

Posted by: Historian | July 10, 2006 12:42 PM

Kali, thanks for the analysis.

Even if the data do show what the authors claim, so what? Is it better to rush into marriage and motherhood when you're not ready so that your kids can live to 100, or to wait and have a happy, well-functioning family with kids who will only live to be 85 or 90?

If you're ready to be a wife and mother at 22, terrific. You've got biology on your side. But Lord, I would have been a disaster.

And by the way, my dear grandmother turns 103 this month. I believe she'd just as soon be at her rest.

http://momsquawk.wordpress.com/

Posted by: MommaSteph | July 10, 2006 12:46 PM

To Historian:
One more reason not to feel guilty: I'm guessing your children are pretty grateful you didn't choose to have "them" earlier, since you wouldn't have conceived those actual kids in earlier pregnancies -- and it's unlikely (unless you then planned to have even more children) that the kids you have now would even exist at all.

Posted by: guilt free | July 10, 2006 12:50 PM

Has anyone read Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt (another UofC researcher)-- I haven't read it in a while, but I seem to recall he also draws conclusions about the age of the parents (not just moms) at the time of their child's birth. I think he concludes that the OLDER parents are, the more likely the child is to be successful later in life. I think he defined "successful" as happy and financially secure.

Can anyone who has read the book more recently than I have verify/correct this?

Not that these conclusions, if accurate, should be used to make younger parents feel guilty...I personally don't think that there is any perfect recipe for having happy, healthy children...

Posted by: Ingrid | July 10, 2006 12:57 PM

I've also read recently (can't recall who conducted the study), that if you have a child past the age of forty -- not a first child -- you are more likely to live until the age of 100.

Posted by: Kate | July 10, 2006 1:01 PM

Interesting comments regarding whether one has enough "maturity" at 25 to have a child. My wife's parents were in their twenties when they had her and her sister. I think that having a child brings with it a certain maturity. That is to say that the realities of raising a child sort of come crashing down on you -- not in a bad way. I just think that one is suddenly forced to grow up very fast.

With that said, I think there is a cruel kind of irony in the fact that, biologically speaking, women's bodies are better suited to bear children in their twenties than in, for instance their thirties -- it's just that aggs are not continually produced in the female body so, mathematically, there are more when one is 25 than 35. Seems to me that the Almighty could have done a better job and made women MORE fertile as they got older. COuld have avoided a heck of a lot of problems that way...

Posted by: Glover Park | July 10, 2006 1:03 PM

Seems to me that the ideal solution is for a man to have two wives: One younger wife (age 21-30) to birth and tend to the babies and one older wife (age 31-41) to work outside the home and bring in extra cash, while also providing respite and mature advice for the younger wife/mother. Where's the study that suggests this as a workable alternative and what might be "best for the children"?

Posted by: Tanger | July 10, 2006 1:08 PM

So if they did research that indicated children born to 15 year old mothers had the best chance of living to an old age, would they publish it? Probably not, because it wouldn't support the popular press concept of what the public needs to hear. We all need to stop paying attention to this manipulative BS.

Posted by: Sally | July 10, 2006 1:09 PM

I am amazed at my friends (several couples) with children: Soon after their first child was born, they began to act as if every little odditity or unwanted behavior would be a lifelong thing rather than a "phase" the child would soon outgrow. And they started saying they felt guilty about so many things! It's bizarre. These people are not the type I would have expected to act this way -- so yeah, why the heck do parents get so nutty, despite all the evidence around them that their child really WILL be ok?

Posted by: Manolo B. | July 10, 2006 1:12 PM


Ahh, yes, guilt, the seasoning of motherhood.

Posted by: Father of 4 | July 10, 2006 1:15 PM

I can't believe that anyone would really think it important for their child to live to 100 years versus perhaps 94 years if born to an "older" mother. Maybe scientific and political progress will be such that in 100 years a centenarian will be able to enjoy health comparable to that of today's 50-year-olds, along with the opportunity to work or have other activities that make life at 100 worthwhile and worth hoping for. But I just don't think that's going to happen. Most of us who know folks in their 80s and 90s are well aware that even the healthiest and most mentally sound aren't able to enjoy a very full life. There's often a lot of pain and loneliness, even if you DO get to see your great-great-grandkids.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 10, 2006 1:18 PM

Per one person's comments....first the researchers had to find people over 100 years old, right? That means the study participants were born before 1906, right?

So what was the mean age of mothers in 1906 vs 2006? What was the average life span in 1906? How many mothers became mothers after age 30 or 35 back then vs now? How many babies died of whooping cough, diptheria, other infections back then vs those born today who are saved by antibiotics, medical advances, improved living conditions?

Lots of medical, social, environmental differences between babies and mothers in 1906 and 2006. How do you extrapolate from one to the other?

Posted by: do your math | July 10, 2006 1:25 PM

Children are life-sucking vampires.

Posted by: Vlad the Diaperwiper | July 10, 2006 1:30 PM

Additionally, one should point out that as you age, your chance of getting Alzheimer's disease or dementia increases, and once you hit a hundred it starts getting pretty high.

Plus, your heart usually won't last more than 120 years anyway, even if you do live that long. Replication errors start creeping in as time goes, and your telomeres get shorter.

Posted by: Will in Seattle | July 10, 2006 1:35 PM

I had my kids at 33 (now 7 yr. old) & 35(now 5 yr. old) and have been a stay-at-home for last 3 years. I HAVE NO GUILT about not having had kids earlier.
So what if my kids do not have a high probabilty of living up to 100. I do not care. I want them to live a happy and fulfilled life, not a long life. I know I am a good mother because of the age at which I had them.
I had spent 17 years in the corporate world and getting my master degree befor I had kids. I loved it and made good money. But when I decided to have kids, I had no problems saying goodbye to it all because I had gotten the 'rush' of succeding in workplace out of my system. I am enjoying this phase of my life because I AM making the choice and the circumstances are not forced on me.
When I read about the study, my reaction was - "interesting!'. No guilt, no remorse at all!. Hopefully, the success of my kids life will be measured by many more factors than how long they lived.

Posted by: Guiltless | July 10, 2006 1:48 PM

Regarding Freakonomics, I recall that children born to a mother who had her first child at or after 30 were more likely to do better academically. Not quoting directly so I could be wrong. I also thought of the book after reading this. Leslie, could you maybe mention the Freakonomics theory in another column please?

thanks!

Posted by: response to ingrid | July 10, 2006 1:52 PM

Yes, Ingrid, Freakonomics came to the conclusion that older parents were more likely to have financially and personally successful children.

Interestingly, a key conclusion of Freakonomics (or, at least of the 2 chapters on parenting!) was that who the parents were was MUCH more highly correleated to how the kids turned out than what the parents did. So, having well educated and generally competent parents mattered much more to the development of the child than day care vs. stay at home parent, etc.

It is really the anti-guilt message. I'm not sure it would fit with Leslie's need to stir the pot on Mommy guilt...

Posted by: curious new mom | July 10, 2006 1:54 PM

Apparently males have less healthy kids as they get older, too, at least according to this study... http://www.paktribune.com/news/index.php?id=149286

Woe is me, now I'm beset by horrible, paralyzing guilt... oh, wait, I couldn't care less that there is some minute percentage chance that my waiting a couple of years to have children with my wife will cause problems, since, like most people, I tend to make decisions based on what makes the most sense for me and not just what the latest study says. Forgot for a second there, excuse me.

Posted by: another dad | July 10, 2006 2:12 PM

Leslie, I'm very disappointed in your rather predictable response to every study every done on anything related to women. Your knee-jerk reaction apppears to be to slam anything that you can twist as "making you feel guilty". It reminds me of a controversy (probably still brewing) between medical researchers and feminists on fertility issues.

Basically, researchers have found that women hit a peak of fertility at age 27. Their ability to become pregnant increases until 27 and then decreases after that point. What is particularly interesting is that the drop off after 27 is a steeper slope than the lead up to 27. Feminists took great issue with these findings because they believe in women establishing their careers and then having kids in their late 30s or even early 40s. The researchers' point was that it is a lie to make it seem so easy to just put off having kids, as if it's just as easy to get pregnant at 40 as it is at 25.

What's unfortunate is that these feminists are opposed to the truth, as you appear to be, Leslie. Findings from studies provide information -- they do not tell us what to do. They simply allow us to understand the full consequences of various choices we have in life. Now this particular study Leslie cites may be flawed (I don't know), but Leslie does not attack it in that way. She simply seems to be opposed to people discovering the truth, much as those feminists are opposed to studies showing that women's fertility is lower after age 27.

Moreover, those feminists were adamantly opposed to the spreading of this information.

My question is: Why do you (Leslie) feel the need to oppose the truth (or at least the search for truth)? Why dismiss research for simply finding something that makes you uncomfortable?

Posted by: ThinkingMan | July 10, 2006 2:12 PM

Anybody here see that South Park episode with crazy "Mel Gibson" trying to get tortured by Kenny and Kyle? Bear with me here - he was basically looking for oppressors everywhere he went, so that he could almost "become" the Messiah.

That is totally what I'm getting from today's blog post: Leslie is trying in vain to find evidence of guilt-inducing intent in a study that makes a fairly interesting, if useless, point about the age of the mother and the age of the child, so that she can look like she's overcoming the vast anti-mom conspiracy.

That's not to say that there aren't people and organizations that try to subvert feminism and feminist messages; it's just that this study isn't subverting much of anything.

As for what one can use to keep anti-mom messages from getting to you: a bit of basic common sense would be a good start. Talk to your doctor, talk to your friends, talk to your parents and/or your SO's parents, and don't let the pseudo-science get you down.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 10, 2006 2:12 PM

Thanks for the responses. Curious new Mom: I was also struck by that particular argument of Levitt's-- I specifically remember his assertion that having books around the house was more important (according to his algorithms) than actually reading books to your children. Goes against conventional wisdom (which is Levitt's whole "thing") but is interesting.

Thanks.

Posted by: Ingrid | July 10, 2006 2:13 PM

Correlation is not causation. And when you think about it, 100 years ago, women in general had babies earliers.
I bet there's a study somewhere saying that Mormons, on average, live longer than non-LDS members. If so, that doesn't mean we all should become Mormon. It might possibly say something positive about certain dietary guidelines and plenty of fresh air, exercise and clean living.
Anyway, as we all know, what might be true for statistical average taken out of a general population isn't necessarily true for any one individual.
(ps - I loved your comments, I've Been Thinking)

Posted by: Anonymous | July 10, 2006 2:20 PM

What does this really have to do with "balancing" work-life issues? This statistic will have zero affect on 99% of the people who hear about it.

Leslie, you're scraping the bottom of the barrel for topics. Just because a post gets 200+ responses doesn't mean that the discussion had merit.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 10, 2006 2:44 PM

Thank you Kali for pointing out the birth order factor. The earlier comments about the children of older women most likely being the 2, 3, 4th, 6th...child a women had made me think right off of birth order. Maybe birth order has more to do with longevity maybe not. You would need to study the longevity of the 1st born child of women and see if the mothers age made any difference if the longevity of the child. Studies like this provide interesting antidotal information but can not be considered to provide any definitive answers. The proper use of these studies is to say...hummm that's interesting wonder why that happens. Let design a study to look closer at that.

As a scientist I an often dismayed by the way the media portrays these types of studies. They are not facts, absolutely true, or etched in stone! They should not be quoted as fact and then used to stir up some sort of emotional response. Yes the fact that this ONE study found that children of younger mothers live longer is interesting. Now we need to look at why the study found this and do more research. Did they account for birth order, what was the socioeconomic status of the mother and of the child throughout their life, what kind of medical care did the mother have, what were their occupations, in what region did they live, urban or rural, and on and on. There are so many factors that may affect longevity there is no way this type of study can account for them. Not to mention in the scientific field the results of one study should only get a humm that's interesting response, the 2nd study to find the same results may mean that we're on to something here. Show me the 3, 4 5th study (done properly and accounting for as many variables as possible) and then I may start to believe it. And never, never trust statistics. They can be used to show any result you want. It all depends of what test you run and how you present the data.

Sorry to rant but the portrayal of these types of studies as fact really bothers me.

Posted by: cmw | July 10, 2006 3:01 PM

antidotal /// anecdotal

Posted by: Anonymous | July 10, 2006 3:10 PM

Hey, let's all create a time machine so that us mother's who have had children after 25 can go back and pop them out earlier? Or a better idea would be to create a time machine to go back before we read the blog today. Who's with me?

Posted by: Anonymous | July 10, 2006 3:50 PM

I got married at 23, and thought we'd wait a while. We had our children at 28, 30, and 33. I would give *anything* to have had them sooner. I think I would have had more energy for them then, and I would have re-started my career earlier. Now I'm 35 and stuck in limbo still. I feel old. My sister-in-law is 50 and her youngest is getting married. All three are out of the house and happily married. I wish I could be that young and have good years ahead of me with my husband, but the earliest I could possibly be in her situation is 60. It depresses me.

Posted by: Harriet | July 10, 2006 4:18 PM

Two of my aunts are twins. One had her first child (of four) at age 16, the other had her only child at 40. The usual story: One aunt married young and didn't work until she was in her early 30s. The other pursued a nursing career and traveled all over the US and to Europe and Russia.

The aunt who had her children young is so happy now that they are grown and she is enjoying her grandchildren. The aunt who had her first at 40 wishes she had had her at a younger age because she now has less energy and realizes she'll be almost 60 when her daughter goes to college.

The aunt who had her children young is traveling with her husband, who built a very successful business, and they are enjoying a "second honeymoon" in their marriage. The other aunt is unhappy in her marriage, basically plans to divorce her husband when her daughter goes to college, so then she'll be single again at 58 and she'll have to continue to work full-time.

What does all this mean about having children young vs old? Absolutely nothing.

Posted by: Statistics | July 10, 2006 4:33 PM

I read the study and looked at it more like a fun fact, not something that would I use to make life deicisions. You know, kinda like, most people over 100 today had young moms..huh, interesting.

I actually had my first when I was 24 and my second when I was 27. Thre are some trade offs. For me personally, becoming pregnant was very easy and medically, my doctors didn't have the same concerns about gestational diabetes or Down Syndrome (though I still had regular medical check-ups etc.) Also in my 20s, my husband and I have a lot of energy (I can't imagine chasing around my active kids). I'm a working mom, but ofcourse my husband and I have to deal with scheduling and daycare, but I look forward to being in my 40s, with kids in college and still being young enough to enjoy life.

The bad side: Most of my friends don't have kids, so its hard to find couple friends. Also I often miss being young and free, going out whenever I want etc., staying out late etc. Since we started our family young building up our finances has been hard. Perhaps it would have been easier to have more saved up, already own a home etc. And daycare is hard to pay for.

I think most men and women take these things into account when deciding to have kids. But the point is to think about all of these issues and more and then decide for yourself what you want. Realize no matter what you do, there are pros and cons, but the more you know what to expect, the happier you'll be and the more guilt free you'll be.

Posted by: newto DC | July 10, 2006 4:36 PM

Yes, now maybe some people may wish they had kids when they were younger. However, think back to the times you had between 25 and 30 to 35 when you didn't have kids. Think back to the places you traveled, things you experienced and people you met. It is easy to say you wish you could travel at 50, but how would you felt if you saw friends traveling and experiencing life without you at 23?

It is all about wanting things we can't have now. People who have kids later in life may get to travel, save money and do things before retirement. People who have kids young may need to wait until retirement.

Really, it is all just timing.

Posted by: Thought | July 10, 2006 4:40 PM

If you actually look at the reuters article you'll see that they looked at mothers who gave birth before age 25 in the late 1800s!!! Of course the women who's children lived longer were under 25. First, it was really rare to have children when you were over the age of 25. And second, the ones who were over 25 were likely the medical equivalent to todays women in their forties or older.
This article is a non-issue and a scare tactic.

Posted by: read the facts | July 10, 2006 4:47 PM

"You got it all right. The common denominator of all this research is that all moms, no matter what are choices, end up feeling guilty, one way or the other."

Have we asked ourselves why? Assuming honest people perform the research in a responsible way - and we have real reason to question this - then we're dealing with data about how kids are affected by particular things. Early research may be misleading, and it may take time to come to a full understanding of some of the effects involved, but the bottom is that research is intended to provide us with facts we can use to guide our decisions. Very rarely is any one particular fact the only consideration in a meaningful, real-life decision.

Responsible adults should want to make their decisions based on a mature appreciation for the facts, as they are currently understood. Various considerations will always have to be balanced, and there will be downsides to almost any real-life decision. That's no cause for guilt.

We should only feel guilty if: 1) we didn't make our decision in a responsible fashion; or 2) we know we're making the wrong decision (for whatever reason).

What are we implying here? That Moms by and large a) aren't making decisions in a responsible fashion; b) know they're making the wrong decisions; or c) don't know their own minds, and can't help continually revisiting decisions that they've made deliberately and responsibly?

How, in any event, can this possibly be the researchers' fault (unless we're suggesting that they're somehow commiting academic malpractice or fraud)?

Posted by: Huh? | July 10, 2006 4:57 PM

. . . and we have NO real reason to question this . . .

Posted by: Huh? | July 10, 2006 4:58 PM

Harriet, my dear, you should "get you some business" as my spry still doing the cha-cha slide, still getting mani-pedi's, still DATING 85-year-old grandma would say. Life is what you make it. Do something with the one God gave you.

Posted by: Good grief | July 10, 2006 4:59 PM

Who said anything about "deciding" to have children earlier or later in this study? I think women of the early 20th cent. were much less likely to have any type of bc method and no fertility treatments were available. Women having their first children at a later age, probably were less healthy fertility-wise themselves. That could translate into less healthy children. Not being able to have children is a whole separate category of why women shouldn't feel guilty from this study.

Posted by: birthchoice? | July 10, 2006 4:59 PM

I just turned 28 and can't even fathom having children anytime soon. Hubby and I have been together for 8 years (married for 3) and have enough trouble balancing our lives, careers, finances, and chasing after two energetic dogs. Why would I want to bring a screaming, pooping, sleep-depriving little creature into our world before we're ready to handle it?

Posted by: Stella | July 10, 2006 5:04 PM

P.S. I work at Planned Parenthood and we have lots of free birth control for those who agree with my decision to wait. :-)

Posted by: Stella | July 10, 2006 5:06 PM

Live your life, enjoy it. That is what God intended. People worry too much.

Posted by: PATRICK | July 10, 2006 5:14 PM

The up side to having your children when you are closer to 40 is that you (and your friends of the same age or older) are more likely to enjoy staying at home on evenings and weekends and less likely to feel that "I need to get out and LIVE!" thing of going to movies, plays, bars, clubs, restaurants, happy hours, athletic events, softball and dodgeball games, raving until dawn, sitting at Steak and Egg at 4 a.m., and running up to NYC for the weekend.

If you've got that out of your system it is MUCH easier to find happiness and peace in an evening at home with your spouse, a nice pizza, a bottle of wine, and the little one tucked in and sleeping soundly.

Posted by: Glad I waited | July 10, 2006 5:15 PM

>But I also think that when you are bombarded with authoritarian messages
(from newspapers, politicians, family members, etc) all consciously or
unconsciously designed to make you feel guilty about your choices as a
mother, they become increasingly hard to ignore. They start to feel like
wallpaper surrounding you.

>Do you have any good suggestions -- mantras, if you will for ignoring these frequent messages?

>Posted by: Leslie | July 10, 2006 10:42 AM

How about: I will seek professional help to discover why I need others to validate my choices, believe all moms feel the way I do and to examine my tendency towards paranoia and self-importance?

Do you really believe:
>all consciously or unconsciously designed to make you feel guilty about your choices as a mother

Really??? Maybe it's just one more thing you're taking on yourself.

Posted by: fract'l | July 10, 2006 5:31 PM

I think there are two types of parents. Those who want and thank god for their kids and those who stumbled reluctantly into parenthood and and are ill equipped to take care of themselves much less anyone else.

Posted by: wesley | July 10, 2006 5:38 PM

I like the argument about quality of life at 90plus. Go visit a nursing home to get a sense of what that is like at the moment. My own grandmother is 92 and a shut-in. She can't drive, can't go out unless someone takes her, and is lucky to be living in her own house. My aunt lived to 96 in a nursing home, and my great-grandparents lived until their late 90's. One became ill and had to be in a nursing home for several years and it was a huge financial blow.

I did, however, get married at 25(and two weeks) as my sister did. Several of my friends did as well. I was the only one who had a child before 26, but the funny thing about having kids is that they do help you mature faster. But I was never a partier and had been teaching for three years before she was born. Of the four of us who married at 25 or before, one is divorced. She is the only one who didn't have kids!!!

Posted by: Wouldashouldacoulda | July 10, 2006 5:40 PM

"If you actually look at the reuters article you'll see that they looked at mothers who gave birth before age 25 in the late 1800s!!! Of course the women who's children lived longer were under 25. First, it was really rare to have children when you were over the age of 25. And second, the ones who were over 25 were likely the medical equivalent to todays women in their forties or older.
This article is a non-issue and a scare tactic."

Of course, the women whose children were studied gave birth in the late 1800s. How else could the children be 100 or more years old at the time the study was done?

Are you sure it was rare to have children after the age of 25 one hundred years ago? I don't know, but I tend to doubt it. No matter how young women were when they had their first child, they remained fertile (at least to some degree) until they were in their forties or later. And, they didn't have reliable birth control.

Fertility rates among white women have dropped from an average of 3.75 per woman in 1890 to 2.0 in 2000. Among African-American women, the fertility rate was 6.56 in 1890; now it is 2.13. These figures indicate that, whenever childbearing began, it likely continued for a longer period.

Posted by: THS | July 10, 2006 5:43 PM

"Are you sure it was rare to have children after the age of 25 one hundred years ago?"

Good point, THS. I think of my grandmother, whom I never knew. She was 25 when she married in 1919, so she's not quite in the study years. She had seven children over the following thirteen years.
All the children lived well into adulthood and went on to have their own families.

Average life expectancy for a woman born in her era was 48 (I think). That's the age she died, after having suffered several strokes over a period of years.

My grandfather, in contrast, died at 84 years of age. He was 35 at the time of his marriage, so he fathered his last child around age 48 or 49.

Posted by: Kate | July 10, 2006 5:59 PM

ThinkingMan, I'm with you. There may be plenty of reasons to dispute the findings based on the research methodology, but to suggest that this is some sort of slam on working women is a major stretch. And I can't imagine that anyone would use this information as more than an extremely minor data point in a decision on when to have kids. It's many orders of magnitude less important than the considerations people are already faced with--finding a mate, having enough money/time/energy etc. etc. etc.

Posted by: EngineeringMom | July 10, 2006 6:13 PM

wouldashouldacoulda, I don't think you can imply that not having children caused your friends to divorce. They could have divorced because they were not happy.

At 32, I am happily married with no kids yet. I love my husband, but also my freedom so we are waiting a bit.

Posted by: Thought | July 10, 2006 6:16 PM

I really enjoy this blog and am learning a lot from all the postings. My own two cents about the research is that is wasn't very solid. Certainly not solid enough to state that having children later in life means your kids won't live as long.

The main issue is, as always, correlation versus causation. A third factor could be affecting both the age of the mother when she gave birth and also the longetivity of the kids. If this factor isn't accounted for in the regression analysis (that is, if it isn't included as a variable in the regression), then any correlation that the authors find between the age of the mother and the longetivity of the kids could just be picking up on the fact that this third factor causes both to happen.

In fact there is such a possible "third factor", namely being a farmer. (There's also the possible "fourth factor" of region, living out West.) Kids of farmers have a much greater chance of living to 100, according to their study. Farming families might also have kids earlier. This second link isn't proved, but it's a strong possibility, so the authors need to consider it.

In fact, the authors do not include a variable for "farming family" nor a variable for "living in the West" in their regression results in Table 10. This table is what they base their conclusions about age of the mother and longetivity. They do include birth order as a control, and age of the mother appears to be the more important factor. But they need to include the farming and West variables, too, otherwise that sneaky "third factor" could be driving all of their results.

Finally, it's not clear what their control group is. I'm somewhat skeptical of their reasons for rejecting what would seem to me to be two decent control groups (census families, and brothers- and sister-in-law).

So, some intesting findings, but not solid enough to base any recommendations on, without further research.

Posted by: econ grad student | July 10, 2006 8:59 PM

To Thoughts: Well, actually, I was just SAYIN'. You drew your own conclusions. I actually know plenty of people who had kids and divorced. Those were just my college friends. One of my older buds got married, had a kid, got divorced and remarried 3 times! No, the reason they got a divorce is because the woman-who-used-to-be-a-friend was a materialistic psycho witch. Her ex (who she dumped for a lawyer) met a lovely woman and within two years was changing diapers for his little girl.

I think it is funny that we are all defending our choices about when we had kids--early or late. Someone talked about how they are glad they waited because they don't like going out now. I think you play the hand you were dealt. Rearing kids is frustrating and joyful no matter how old you are when they come into your life. But it is much more tiring when you are in your forties. And we traveled a lot when our kids were babies---they are very portable and fly free. But I was biologically wired to have kids young. I was just lucky to find my husband at a young age. And like the earlier poster said "Whatever you do, it will be wrong." Too funny! O.K. Leslie, no more dumb columns. Ask us how we balance it. Some do. Or what are the biggest problems outside of daycare? How did we solve them or cope? Your blog readers can really help you out here.

Posted by: Wouldashouldacoulda | July 11, 2006 3:06 AM

Dear G-D! I can't believe this is a serious study. Why don't these "researchers" try to correlate age of mother with, oh I don't know, size of first house of child. I'm sure they'll find a significant relationship and then the headlines will blare "age of mother" affects housebuying!

Posted by: Disbelieving | July 11, 2006 7:37 AM

"How is that last statement obvious? If the data show that babies of younger mothers have fewer childhood diseases, wouldn't that suggest that the younger you are when you have a child, the better it is for your child? But to comfirm that would be to endorse unwed mothers, which is a big no-no."

To confirm that would be to either endorse unwed mothers or endorse child brides. Not every pregnant 10-year-old is unmarried, after all. Meanwhile, "the younger she gives birth the better" is still wrong because of the risks associated with giving birth ASAP:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/3817009.stm

Posted by: Maria | July 11, 2006 1:20 PM

just to note, my great-grandmother lived to 105, but she wasn't really happy after about 95 or 96. When your parents, siblings, friends, teachers, aunts and uncles are dead, i'm not sure what kind of quality of life we're talking about here. Sure, there are children, grand-children, and great-grandchildren, but the health problems that accompany living past 100 may not be worth it.

Posted by: bethesda | July 11, 2006 1:45 PM

I think this study is utterly silly. Other studies have shown that lower income is associated with poor health outcomes for children.Therefore, if women can improve family income by focusing on their careers then their children will be healthier despite being born from an older mom. SO what's the real right answer?

In any case, some people don't meet the right person until their older. Oh wait, maybe we should all marry and procreate with the first idiot we meet. No matter if we have miserable marriages that make our kids want to swear off marriage themselves.

Sometimes it amazes me the nonsense researchers choose to study.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 11, 2006 2:24 PM

Maria, thanks for the link. It's truly horrifying. It does show that (1) there are women out there who are at great risk having children too soon and that (2) some teens or girls are married when they have children.

While many of us are already aware of the dangers of having children at a very young age, that common knowledge is not supported by the study. That's the point. The doctor said "obviously." The data do not deal with any health issues for teen mothers--they simply state that women younger than 25 (so puberty to 25) will pass along fewer childhood diseases.

My point was that the doctor should not have said anything that was not supported by the study (anything about the risks to the mother, which were not studied, or anything about why women have children later in life, which was also not studied). By stating anything that was not based on the study, she branded her own opinion on the data.

Posted by: Meesh | July 11, 2006 4:09 PM

I assume the data would also suggest an upbringing in a strong nuclear family would benefit this child. I wonder what the stats are on divorce rates for people marrying under 25. Should women marry before they are ready because their children could live to be 100? Life is more complicated than ridiculous studies like this suggest.

I happen to know five couples at this time who married under 25. Two are still together - and that includes the same sex couple.

Posted by: ddonaghe | July 12, 2006 11:09 AM

Here is the Power-Point Presentation for this study:

http://longevity-science.org/PAA-2006.ppt

This study used a within-family analysis -- comparing centenarians with their siblings (brothers and sisters) as controls within the same family.

Hope it helps,

Posted by: Expert | July 12, 2006 5:56 PM

Maybe the difference between those who have kids before 25 and those who have them after 25 is that the older you are the more emotionaly detached you are. The more emotionally detached you are the more your mother skills and instincts lack. The more your mother skills and instincts lack the more hardened your child will be growing up. Result? Not a long, full life.

Just an observation.

Posted by: Mom | July 18, 2006 6:37 AM

I'm just amazed by what people can get worked up over. Life is what you make of it. What works for you doesn't necessarily work for other people. I had my three children by the age of 30 - purposefully. It has always been my intention to do so because I wanted to be young with my kids. They have not stopped me from pursuing my career goals - even though I took time off to stay at home with my youngest. Even now as I resume my career at a higher level, they recognize that my career is important to me, but it is not more important than them. There are opportunity costs to doing things my way or waiting to have children, but my family and I are happy with the decisions that we have made. So to all the mothers that feel guilty for not doing something perfectly - DON'T!!! Celebrate you, your family & your own situation.

Posted by: southerngal | July 19, 2006 3:08 PM

I guess I didn't clarify that I had my children at 24, 26 & 29.

Posted by: southerngal | July 19, 2006 3:10 PM

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