The Grayest Generation: Older Parents

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Americans are becoming parents at older and older ages. The average first-time mother is now four years older (25) than she was in 1970. Judith Shulevitz, science editor at The New Republic and author of their cover story, "How Older Parenthood Will Upend American Society" talks about the impact for society, health, and families.


Judith Shulevitz

Comments [51]

LullabyLull from NYC

I appreciated this segment very much because as a 36-year-old married woman who just had to undergo years of fertility treatments, it dawned on me that I should have started "trying" much earlier. And yet, as the guest said, our society just does not support younger parenting if you want a successful career. I always thought I'd have no trouble having kids, as my mom had me just shy of her 38th birthday, and my sister just shy of her 44th, all natural, but here I am struggling with infertility for almost 3 years. I go to support groups and the story from infertile women is almost always the same: "I should have started earlier." I never considered having children in my 20s, and I don't think I was emotionally or financially prepared - but if we had different expectations in our culture, perhaps I would have planned my life differently.

P.S. "Ed from Larchmont" - I'm Hispanic but no babies yet.
P.P.S. "VR from WP" - I hope you can find the support you need!

Dec. 15 2012 01:46 PM
Sasha from Brooklyn

What great comments! This interview was infuriating. I never had grandparents growing up and it was absurd for her to assume that EVERYONE has a perfect four pronged family structure. My mother passed when I was 21 and I went to a support group with women who were the same age as her, who's mothers died at 85 and 90 years old! We don't know when we're going to die. Its not a given that parents or grandparents will be around and its rather naive to assume that just because you're young the family structure will stay in tact. AND I love the fact that people in this generation, many of whom are the product of divorce or unmarried parents, take relationships and marriage seriously enough to wait for the right person. Stay healthy, freeze those eggs and we'll be fine kids, we'll be fine!

Dec. 13 2012 02:25 PM
anna from new york

We are in the world of absurdity. We need science to tell us that humans are humans and deserved to be treated as such.
One has to be foreign born to understand ... Jane is correct.
In any European country there are civilized laws encouraging civilized way of life. We need some idiotic babbling about older fathers instead of stating directly that people need laws which would protect their basic human rights, such as the right not to be exploited, the right to be human and have time and energy for oneself, family, community, country, the world.

Dec. 13 2012 01:51 PM
alex nyc from uws

I understand the difficulty of balancing career and parenting, but in a world that is rapidly destroying itself through overpopulation, I find the selfishness of those advocating policies facilitating earlier childbearing appalling and sad.

Dec. 13 2012 01:00 PM
Karen from NYC

My father was 50 and my mother 36 when I was born. I married at 23, but did not have a child until age 38. I was my parents first child; I have a younger sibling, born when my Dad was 54.

I think that I benefited from having mature parents. They didn't understand the Beatles, but were stable and mature people who made parenting their first priority. Both lived a long, long time, so I had parents well into middle-age.

I think that my husband and I have been much better parents than we would have been, had we had a child in our 20s. We were just too unsettled -- financially, emotionally -- at that age to raise another human being. Anytime from 33-35 years old on would have been okay.

Another issue: we are now the older parents of a college student, as are many of our friends. The workplace needs to change to accommodate the fact that people live longer and start families later. Forcing people to retire, or rendering them "unemployable" at age 55 or 60 is imposing huge hardships on families such as ours. I need to keep working; I run 3-4 miles a day and am healthy -- but have been told by employment counselors that, at my age, if I lose my job, I am "unemployable." This is bad and must end; the economy needs to catchup with social changes, including the fact that many people are starting families in their thirties and forties.

Dec. 13 2012 12:07 PM

I am the child of older parents and am now an older parent myself. My parents were 56 and 36 when I was born (I have an older sister and a significantly older half brother from my dad's first marriage). They may have been stricter than my friends parents, but we still did a lot of things together and I was witness to a wonderful loving marriage. I had my first child at 40 with my husband being 45. We just didn't happen to meet until we we were in our mid and late 30's and children were also something we could have gone either way on. I am glad that I am at a more mature time in my life to deal with a child and a marriage, frankly. And, while I'm not sure this is common with older parent families, I am SO GLAD I did not get pressure from my parents to marry or have kids. My mom, having grown up in the 40's-50's, watched friends get married out of high school and college. She wanted a life first before getting married and wanted the same for my sister and me. If my son finds love in his 20's, so be it, but I hope my husband and I can show him that while we may be older, we can all still have fun and have a great family life.

Dec. 13 2012 11:59 AM
Thomas from Williamsburg

I had my son at 38, now 40. We live in an economical culture that does not encourage parenting. My parents had me before they were 20. Despite the fact they came form poor families they owned a home, car, etc... the american dream. My small family has none of this despite the fact we fall just below the top tax bracket, in fact we are still over 100k in combined educational debt. It simply would have been economically unfeasible for us to do this beforehand and a second child is simply out of the equation. This will only become more difficult for following generations whom are financially exploited to a higher degree.

Dec. 13 2012 11:56 AM
VR from WP from White Plains

I'm an older Dad. Had my first at 44. I love my two children beyond words; they know a stability I never did, but daily I run the numbers in my head and it's troubling. I've met Dads older than myself and it's the same story: I hope, I wish, I pray. Deals w/ God. My favorite is, "I can't die, not yet." I told my Doctor hoping he's understand, but he just laughed, outloud no less; he didn't get it.

I really wish there were some support groups out there for older Dads, just a place to go to talk through the emotional dynamic of being an older father. We draw strength and wisdom from each other-two things I hope to impart to my kids----I hope, if I live long enough. There I go again.

Dec. 13 2012 11:42 AM
carol from stamford

I had 2 children in my twenties. In my 30's one of my sons died of cancer. when i was 42 i had my daughter. Having a child later in life when my career was fully established and I could afford childcare,enabled me to fully enjoy the process of childrearing in a way that I was unable to do when I was in my twenties. But I do know that my daughter, now 23, worries about losing me or her dad. My son, now 42,married with 2 boys is very close to his sister despite the 18 year difference in age.

Dec. 13 2012 11:38 AM

A lot of the economic troubles that drive people to put off parenthood come from anti-urban development policy that makes housing dramatically overpriced on the coasts within commuting distance of the big cities. If a 1400 square foot house or condo in a decent neighborhood with 2 bathrooms were $200,000 or $300,000, like it is in the Midwest (even in Chicago, which is nearly as big of a city as New York), people wouldn't need to put off having kids to save up $100,000+ for a down payment or spend years cramming into a tiny apartment because they're merely middle class or even upper-middle class, as opposed to straight-up rich.

Dec. 13 2012 11:36 AM
Will Miles

Thank you, Brian, for 1) pointing out that the US population growth rate is not declining, and 2) asking your guest what the problem is then, since that is the case. Her response showed her racism--which perhaps she is unaware she she suffers from--and her inability to truly support her position. Further, her suggestion that our impact to the environment could be reduced by conservation rather than by consciously reducing the population is simply wacko. I concur with several other listeners that this is a tired topic and that your guest is not a scientist.

Dec. 13 2012 11:34 AM

Its obvious that the guest was very naive when she insisted that younger parents "have grandparents around". That is not the case. Those grandparents are still in the workforce - and will be working longer when the gov't raises the retirement age.

Dec. 13 2012 11:33 AM
Melissa from NYC

I was wondering if anyone looked at the WW II generation? Both sets of my grandparents were married prior to the war, but didn't/couldn't have children until after the war because of separation. My father was born in 1945 when my grandmother was 33 and my twin aunt and uncle were born when she was 39. My other grandmother was in her late 20's when she started and into her late 30's.

My one set of grandparents passed away in the 1970s of things that today are much more treatable; the other is still together after 72 years of marriage and an integral part of my childrens' lives. People are living much longer now.

Dec. 13 2012 11:32 AM
Mike from Brooklyn, NY

The one-two punch of that last caller's plea for a "less statistical" outlook on this issue, along with Ms. Schulevitz's clarifications and personal experiences, was very poignant.

Thank you, Brian, for asking the right questions on this important topic (and providing a welcomed platform for discussions, overall).

Dec. 13 2012 11:30 AM
Jeff from New York

A science editor who thinks the world population is shrinking? I guess that's what happens when your magazine is owned by a 29 year-old. Maybe Chris Hughes should have waited until he was a bit older...

Dec. 13 2012 11:29 AM
Marcos from the Bronx

Judith Shulevitz should directly apologize expressing her concern that "...we are not replacing ourselves." when she seemed to mean "The demographic groups I identify with are shrinking as a proportion of this society, and this is scary."

This implies an ideology of race and class supremacy. If that is what she is advocating she should study the history of eugenics, and how it may have affected her ancestors.

Dec. 13 2012 11:29 AM
Jess from Brooklyn

Heck, if I had a husband at 25-30 years old, I would have starting having a child. Still single at 35... I can't control meeting someone I want to trust my finances, body, and future with. Yeah, it sucks that my mom had me at 33 and if I do have kids, she's going to be too old to be the grandmother she's been to my nephews. What's a single woman to do?

Dec. 13 2012 11:28 AM
John A

Ed from Larchmont,
You're not wrong, but it is an overly child friendly society - given that the "children" were 30, 40, and older. A very self deceiving society.

Dec. 13 2012 11:27 AM
morgan from Indiana

Ah yes! Another liberal plot to have "society"--i.e. us high income, job creators--pay the bill so the profligate takers can lay around at easy or no jobs and pop out babies like kittens.

Dec. 13 2012 11:27 AM

My parents had me when they were 40+, and now, in my 40s, my time is tied up with them, and I have less time to spend with my mother who will not be around too much longer. I also do not have the time would like to have to help her.

Dec. 13 2012 11:26 AM
Cathy from Hoboken,NJ

I am a fifty year old woman whose parents had me at the age of 22. They have always said that they regretted having children so young (which was not all that young at that time). They feel they were not ready emotionally and were not able to be the best parents they could have been had they waited. Further they resented missing out on the freedom and enjoyment they could have had in their twenties and my mother specifically felt that young parenthood prevented her from having a career. They have always told me not to have children too young, that it was a huge mistake. II ended up never having children, bTW)

Dec. 13 2012 11:26 AM
anna from new york

Dear illiterates,
Since when American dream is about moving (?) moving into the middle class (?).
Wasn't it about BEING? being oneself, being ethical, etc.
No awareness of this? Zombie talk.

Dec. 13 2012 11:25 AM
Sarah from Hell's Kitchen

What about the data about older parents being more stable in terms of lower divorce rates? Why is it bad for parents to be more stable? Doesn't fertility have more to do family history than the blanket cut-off age of 35?

Dec. 13 2012 11:25 AM
Alec from Brooklyn

Conversations about how to best parent are certainly important, but where is the substantive discussion about whether or not we should be encouraging parenthood. Is there a more environmentally destructive action a Westerner can take than to bring another first-world consumer into the world? Drive your Prius, ride your bike, eat local all you want. They're all fairly empty gestures in the context of procreation.

Dec. 13 2012 11:24 AM

I am in my forties and my son has two living grandparents who love him but can't provide the kind of support I see younger parents get with their children. I really wish my mother was still alive so I could turn to her for advice and occasional babysitting, especially since my son has special needs.

Dec. 13 2012 11:23 AM
Jane from Brooklyn

I had my son in horrible terrible Soviet Union. I had a chance to stay home with my kid, because they paid me 100% of salary for the first year, and 50% for the second year. I've moved to US after that, and always worked full time. We really need to provide more financial help for the new parents here in US. It's good for the kids, parents, and the society. the first 1.5 years are crucial for kids' development, and it's great for them to have one or 2 parents around, and for those parents not to be afraid that they won't be able to restart their careers once they are able to go back to work

Dec. 13 2012 11:23 AM
John A

This news first broke about the time I turned 40. That after 20 years of the "you can have it all" happytime news. I just had to think the popular press is a real "false god" here. It really caught, misled me at least.

Dec. 13 2012 11:22 AM
Anon from NYC

I just had my first child. I'm 34 and my husband is 40. My parents were also older and that impacted my decision to have children a little earlier than I might otherwise have. My father died when I was 28 and he was 70 and my mother is now 69 and in poor health. My desire to have my child know his grandmother pushed my timeline up. At 34 I'm not that young, but surprisingly I'm the first one of my friends to have kids.

Dec. 13 2012 11:22 AM
az from nyc

As the child of parents who were substantially older than the average (mother 37 when I was born, father 50) but quite long-lived, I can speak from experience: I have spent my entire adult life from age 21 on worrying about and then caring for two old people. Who, as luck would have it, got old sequentially, not simultaneously. Now I am 58, my father is dead, my mother is 96, and
the responsibility is just increasing. I never got the chance to be a young
carefree selfish adult, ever Maybe that was a good thing, but at this point I am just wrung out.

Dec. 13 2012 11:22 AM

I would love to have children soon. I'm in my early thirties, but between having to pay for our own health insurance, student loans, and trying to have savings for emergencies and retirement, I don't know how on earth we can afford to have children.

Dec. 13 2012 11:21 AM
fuva from harlemworld

Focus on the birth rate obscures the harsh reality of many of these newborns ending up in foster care, dysfunctional homes and/or as orphans. They need support, nourishment -- for the sake of us all. There are critical, productive roles for non-reproducers to play...

Dec. 13 2012 11:20 AM
Peter from Windsor Terrace

I'm the youngest of 7 children. I'm wondering if the negative effects on the children of older parents is lessened if the mother produced many children before the last was conceived?

My dad was 27 when his first child was conceived, my mom was 24. In my case, my dad was 43 and my mom 39. She was 40 when I was born.

Dec. 13 2012 11:20 AM
Stephan Cox from Manhattan

Your guest isn't addressing the fact that people (in the west, at least) are living longer.

Dec. 13 2012 11:19 AM
Ed from Larchmont

This is a child-unfriendly society.

Dec. 13 2012 11:19 AM
Paul Blank from NYC / Northern NJ

We had our 2nd child (of two) when I was 36 - my first was at 30, and I don't regret any of that for a moment. 36 isn't that old for these days; I've certainly met many parents who had kids at much later ages. That said, my daughter had her first (of 3!) at 18. Somehow preserves the balance in the universe. Ha.

Dec. 13 2012 11:18 AM

Judith Shulevitz is just wrong on the economics. And her feelings aren't science, whatever she may have deluded herself into thinking.

Dean Baker has recently written on how a declining population can still see economic growth — it's called greater productivity and technological development. Shouldn't really be entirely new concepts to a "science editor," if that's what Shulevitz really is.

A very modest rate of economic growth — 1.5 percent per year — will take care of the relative decline in the number of workers to number of retirees. That's a simple economic fact. Fact. But it's ignored by hand-wavers like Shulevitz who want to press an essentially conservative policy claim.... Not unlike the hand-waving over the "fiscal cliff."

Shulevitz's claims about biology and psychology hold more water. But if this were a country that embraced healthcare and social programs, this wouldn't be the concern it is.

Dec. 13 2012 11:18 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

The concepts of "marriage" and "family" are dying concepts. We are in the age of individual autonomy. Very soon we'll be able to produce children in factories in accordance to labor needs, ala "Brave New World." That whole rigamarole of having and raising kids, and "family" and all the "shtick" is so yesteryear! Relics from the past.

Dec. 13 2012 11:18 AM
M from brooklyn`

had my first possibly last kid at age 39 and although i would have preferred it earlier i really feel settled right now. no feeling of "missing out" on anything because i've exhausted my curiousity in terms of experiences.

Dec. 13 2012 11:16 AM
foodaggro from Brooklyn

My wife and I were 39 when we had our healthy, beautiful daughter. I know at least four people whose parents were late 30s when they had them and they turned out fine. I also know people who had special needs children in their early 30s.
Yes, starting later does mean that you will have fewer children, but I don't believe this study holds much weight. Also keep in mind that city dwellers who have children generally do so at a later age, as it's pretty much always been.

Dec. 13 2012 11:15 AM

While the rate of population growth may be dropping, given the massive size of the human population, it means that population will continue to grow, to perhaps 9 or 10 billion by end of century, according to the UN. This is not sustainable, for people or the planet.

We do NOT need more children!

Dec. 13 2012 11:15 AM
Mary from UWS

I am so sick of this topic. How many times in the past six months have we discussed this on WNYC - and the assumption is always that we CHOOSE when we have children. Not all of us are so lucky to have met our spouse at 18 or 20 and have the luxury of choosing whether to focus on career first or have children first. Some of us didn't have a choice because we met our spouse in our late thirties or even forties. And some of us don't even have the good fortune to be able to have kids at all. Can we just accept that if, when and how many kids we have is completely a personal choice that doesn't need to be discussed to death.

Dec. 13 2012 11:15 AM
hk from manhattan

why would we be afraid of change in society? why is it sad that we get to make our on rules? it seems like most of the problems with society with racist and homophobia comes from older or more "traditional" generations. Things change, societies evolve, why are we so concerned about these things when we really have no grasp on what the actual effects will be?

Dec. 13 2012 11:14 AM
Sarah from Brooklyn

Isn't it better for people to be adults and have their lives together before they have kids? I'm 32 - kids are still a few years away for me.

Also, people are living longer than they did 10 years ago. What 70 was 10 years ago is different than 70 today. My mother is in her 60s, she works full time, looks youthful, is very active and will make a great grandmother.

Dec. 13 2012 11:14 AM
Ed from Larchmont

You need 2.1, the U.S. is about at the replacement level thanks to Hispanics, etc. But as time goes on, as it drops, we become an older society, and eventually there is a point of no return.

There is an argument that children will grow and develop ways of creating new food, etc.

Dec. 13 2012 11:14 AM
Stew from Manhattan

Is your guest familiar with Mike Judge's comedy entitled "Idiocracy?" It depicts a future America that is populated solely by "idiots." The film parodies the current trend of "intelligent, smarter" parents waiting to have kids, and then having fewer kids, while the less educated have more children at a younger age, creating a dumber, hopelessly stupid future America. Relevant AND funny!

Dec. 13 2012 11:14 AM
Mike from Inwood

Older parenting is not merely a lifestyle decision. The income of young adults in "prime child rearing ages" has not increased in real terms in years. The increases in household income since the early 70's have come mostly from an increase in the percent of 2 income families. Maybe the privileged people whose parents can pay for their education and whose connections land them the majority of well paid jobs--so they can afford children in their 20's--should be the only people allowed to have children?

Dec. 13 2012 11:13 AM
antonio from bayside

I was just thinking if 200 years ago, old was considered about 40/50...
Shouldn't the fact we are on a trajectory in the next 10/20 years to increase the lifespan another 50 years, doesn't that even it all out?

Dec. 13 2012 11:12 AM
Ed from Larchmont

The idea that people lived shorter lives historically can be misleading. It wasn't that people weren't built to live 70 or 80 years, but because of illness, etc., and many who died at birth, so on average it was much lower.

Dec. 13 2012 11:11 AM

Springsteen opened for Billy Joel at the RU College Avenue Barn on December 14, 1974. My date took me as I barely knew who Billy Joel was and had NEVER consciously heard of Springsteen. I had seen Bruce open for Chicago at MSG the year before...Who knew?

Dec. 13 2012 11:10 AM
Ed from Larchmont

"The product of tired loins." J. Joyce

Dec. 13 2012 11:09 AM
Paul Blank from NYC / Northern NJ

Feel bad for Roger Waters? NO NO NO! He was AMAZING, following Bruce or not! And I'm a big fan of Bruce. So, what a great set! Eddie Vedder was a wonderful plus.

Dec. 13 2012 11:04 AM

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