Why Women Are Waiting to Start a Family

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When news surfaced last year that millennials are getting married later—if at all—it only fueled the same woeful narrative about today’s single young women. CNN heralded a “marriage apocalypse,” and Psychology Today aimed to determine whether the millennial generation was “doomed to be single.”

Although women are choosing to start families later, this doesn’t mean they’re twiddling their thumbs in the meantime, as the discourse in the media would have you believe. Women are taking the time to get the best education they can by pursuing higher degrees, and delaying childbearing until later.

HealthGrove gathered the most recent data (2013) from Health Indicators Warehouse to see where older women ages 40-54 are having children. They then compared it to a map of the percentage of women aged 25 and over who have attained a graduate degree.

In California and the Northeast, among the most educated areas of the country, there are high percentages of women who have advanced degrees and are having children at a relatively later age. In New York, there seems to be a similarity between the two maps: 14.9% of women have a graduate degree, and 4.6% of mothers gave birth after the age of 40. On the opposite end of the spectrum, only 7.3% of women in West Virginia have a graduate degree, and 1.3% of mothers gave birth after 40.

The states in which births to middle-aged women are highest also have better access to fertility clinics, which could help support them if they choose to have a child later in life. There are always some health risks associated with later motherhood, but with improvements in women’s health care, especially fertility technology, many women are more confident that putting off having children is still a realistic and prudent option.

We see that women are getting a lot of advanced degrees and having a lot of babies at an older age in many of the same states. But does this really mean that women are becoming more successful at taking on both work and family? Research from Pew reveals this trend has only been getting stronger over the last two decades. The number of childless women over 40 has gone down, especially among those who have an M.D. or Ph.D. As of last year, “20 percent reported having no children, compared with 35 percent in 1994. Among those who have a master’s degree or higher, 22 percent are childless, down from 30 percent in 1994.”

So women aren’t choosing education over family—they’re making room for both.

There has been evidence that the consequences of this trend vary among different people, especially between socio-economic classes. College-educated women seem to have largely benefited from this shift. One of the main benefits is that they have more money to raise children later on in life.

According to the American Community Survey, “the average annual personal income for college-educated women in their mid-30s who married after age 30 is $50,415, compared with $32,263 for college-educated women of the same age who married before age 20.” That’s a 56% difference. So if anything, American women aren’t experiencing a marriage apocalypse, but rather a family-career renaissance.

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