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Article in The Atlantic ignites debate on how long women really can wait to have children

An article recently published in The Atlantic by Jean Twenge has reignited debate about age-related fertility declines and just how long women can safely wait to have children.

Twenge challenges the relevance and validity of the data upon which medical estimations have been based regarding age-related fertility declines for women in their 30s. She argues that claims about rapid declines in women’s fertility after age 35 have been exaggerated, and that women should not be concerned about declining fertility until after age 40. Having successfully produced 3 children in her late 30s, Twenge claims that there is no need for women to be panicking about their declining fertility before age 40.

The article in The Atlantic was covered extensively by other news outlets and enjoyed a significant amount of press. It clearly touched a chord for many women in their 30s who, by choice or circumstance, are not yet ready to have children. According to Margaret Wheeler of The Huffington Post: “The Atlantic’s fertility story just told so many women what they want to hear.”

Twenge touched on a very sensitive topic –  one that raises anxiety for many childless women in their 30s and early 40s who think they might like to have children in the future. The MFC editorial team received numerous email requests from personal and professional contacts to comment on this story. According to our 30-something mental health expert and web administrator Emily Koert, the article by Twenge and her claims that women’s fertility does not rapidly decline after 35 was a hot topic at many of her social gatherings with currently childless women who are delaying childbearing.

The discussion about delayed childbearing and how long women can safely wait isn’t complete without the recognition of the complexities of the decision to delay childbearing. Many women would rather have children at a younger age, but there are gaps between what they feel would be ideal and the economic, educational, career, and relationship realities of their lives. Combined with these personal factors are the social and structural realities. Women continue to bear the primarily responsibility for childrearing, and those who take time away from their careers to have children pay a price for that choice. The decision is not simply one of the “biological clock” – although this is also an important consideration as women try to make the best childbearing decisions possible.

So how long can women safely wait to have children? Does fertility take a nose-dive for women after 35, or is it true as Twenge claims, that most women in their mid- to late 30s are as fertile as women in their 20s? In response to the Twenge article and in an attempt to answer these important questions, the MFC editorial team recruited one our medical experts – fertility specialist Dr. Beth Taylor, and a reproductive health psychologist – Irenee Daly. Irenee Daly’s Guest Contribution will be posted on Wednesday, September 11, 2013. Read her post here. Dr. Beth Taylor’s Ask an Expert post will be posted on Friday, September 13, 2013. Read her post here. 

Be sure to return to the site to read their takes on the debate.

Click here to read Twenge’s article.

Click here to read Margaret Wheeler’s Huffington Post response to Twenge’s article.

 

 

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