Many Women Don't Have Kids -- Get Over It
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If you’re a teenager, you’re pushed toward motherhood by “moralizers” bent on denying you information about, and access to, birth control. If you’re a women 35 and older, you’ve been subject to a decade of news stories set to the ominous sound of a ticking clock and bent on creating fertility anxiety—if you wait, you’ll be too late. And lately the anxiety peddlers have been expanding their targeted danger zone to include women in their late 20s and early 30s. Women lose 90 percent of their eggs by age 30 , ABC news and others informed us recently, and the message was more of the same: get busy!
We have abstinence-only ed to thank for the recent upswing in the teen birthrate, a job assisted by the glamorization of teen moms in the media and of babies, babies, babies in the tabloids and the reality TV shows. Of course the glamour fades fast, and teen moms face big problems such as plummeting high school graduation rates for the moms and, later, for their kids, a higher likelihood of poverty and less hope of a long-term relationship with or support from dad. Those are personal problems for the girls and their families, but they’re also national problems as our hope for a globally competitive, educated work force goes south. Education reform not linked to real birth control information doesn’t just leave kids behind, it actively sets them and all of us back.
And sure, older women need to know that fertility declines with age. But what are the actual fertility rates of women in each age range? And why is it that increasing numbers of women choose to delay in the first place? What is lost when they don’t? Instead of facts and understanding of the causes and effects of delay, we get a lot of sentimentality aimed at getting you to start your family now.
When you consider that 2007 saw an upturn in the birthrate in every age category between 10 and 45 as U.S. births hit an all-time high, there’s a clear disconnect between the high rates of birth for women 35-plus and the claims of the anxiety peddlers. Women seeking full fertility facts should know that the only rigorous study of natural fertility rates (conducted in the 1950s from data collected over years prior) indicated that the infertility rate was 3.5 percent at 25, 7 percent at 30, 11 percent at 35, 33 percent at 40, 50 percent at 41 and 87 percent at 45. (Click here for more on the 1950s data).
Of course individuals differ, no one group is generalizable to all other groups, and data from the first half of the twentieth century wouldn’t reflect fertility degradation that may have occurred from STDs, stress or pollution. But indications are that health and medical advances have improved, not undermined, our natural fertility rates within these age bands. However you understand the relation of this study to the present moment, the rate of decline is nothing like what is suggested by a story with the headline "Women lose 90% of eggs by 30,” implying a similar percentage likelihood of infertility.
In addition, IVF, egg donation, adoption and egg freezing have expanded women’s options after their natural fertility declines. But while these often work, they are expensive and unpredictable. And, hard though it may be to imagine in our baby-wild world, many women are happy without kids. They’d be even more likely to be happy if they weren’t being reminded all the time of how unhappy they should be. But instead of a real look at women’s life options, we get a sentimental, inaccurate and incomplete narrative.