What Made College Students Want Kids Earlier?
A new study found that offering students information on fertility-related age decline made them rethink their childbearing plans.
While she was in college, Allison Slater Tate said her friends never discussed the ages at which they planned to have children.
“My friends at Princeton all assumed we would have kids ‘someday,’ but we never talked about timing,” the writer and mother of four told BabyZone. Instead, conversations revolved more around future careers. “That was more a topic than children.”
In fact, women often cite wanting to take time to establish a career as a reason for delaying childbearing. But a new study reveals that both college-age women and men may bump up their plans for parenthood after being presented with some hard truths about fertility.
Researchers surveyed a group of more than 100 undergraduate students at a large university in Queensland, Australia to determine how knowledgeable they were about fertility and in-vitro fertilization. The subjects were also asked at what ages they wished to have their first and last children. The students were then provided with an informational brochure on fertility and IVF. Afterward, they were surveyed again.
The researchers found that, after reading the brochure, the students had a much better grasp on the reality of age-related fertility decline and the effectiveness of IVF. The students also largely changed their minds about the ages at which they planned to have children. Before reading the brochures, the average desired age to have a first child among study participants was nearly 29; for a last child, 34. After being given the brochures, the average ages dropped to 28 and 33, respectively.
“This study suggests that many people may be delaying having children without fully understanding fertility decline, and with unrealistically optimistic views of the ‘safety net’ provided by reproductive technology,” study co-author Rachel Thompson, now a post-doctoral research fellow at The Dartmouth Center for Health Care Delivery Science, said in a statement released by Dartmouth College.
“Increasing awareness of fertility issues, even through simple tools, is essential for ensuring young women and men can make informed reproductive decisions and could ultimately have a big impact on society,” she said.
Tate, who had her first child at age 27, wrote in a recent blog post that something beyond fertility weighed on her as she planned for the future with her last child, who was born when Tate was 37. Tate noted that she’ll have 10 years’ less time on the planet with her daughter than with her oldest son.
“When my daughter is almost 40 like I am now, I’ll be closing in on 80, and I know from experience that she will still need me—a lot,” she wrote. “Will she go through a pregnancy without me? Will she go through menopause without me? Whenever I have to leave her and my boys, it will be too soon.”
But can women who have children at younger ages still successfully pursue their professional ambitions? Tate and others—myself included—would like to see changes in the workplace that would make such goals more realistic.
“Having children should not eliminate other experiences or career choices,” she told BabyZone. “Maybe if those priorities shifted in college with both men and women, we’d have a generation riding up through corporate America more eager to address work/life issues—both men and women.”
“Conceiving of Change,” by Aleena M. Wojcieszek and Rachel Thompson, was published in the August 2013 issue of the journal Fertility and Sterility.
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