The demographics of parenthood have shifted significantly in recent years: For a host of economic reasons, millennials seem intent to delay having children. Simultaneously, rates of pregnancy among women in their 40s have increased, even as birth rates fall among other age groups. Cumulatively, these trends have caused a steady rise in the average age of motherhood: 2016 marked the first year on record in which women in their 30s had more babies than women in their 20s. Dads are getting older as well. The average father of a newborn is now 31 years old.
Of course, these parenthood patterns prompt questions. Will couples who wait struggle to conceive once they decide they are ready? Older Americans can reinforce those worries, some of who worry millennials will regret delaying parenthood later in life. In this project, we surveyed over 1,000 individuals from various age groups to contrast their opinions, fears, and hopes about having children. From deep anxieties about infertility to the pressure they feel from others, our data present an intimate view of how Americans really perceive pregnancy. Whether you're a parent today or are considering kids in the future, you won't want to miss what we found out.
Planning on Parenthood?
Our data suggest that while many young people choose to hold off on having kids, the majority want them eventually. Among millennials, 72 percent expressed a desire to have kids eventually, although 57 percent admitted to delaying parenthood thus far. Some economic experts attribute millennials' tendency to push off parenthood to student debt concerns. With thousands in outstanding loan amounts, it's difficult to commit to the costs of raising a child. Comparatively, a smaller portion of Gen Xers reported intentionally delaying becoming parents, and only 55 percent claimed to want kids in the future. This finding may reflect the reality that many Gen Xers have settled into lives without children. Currently, most of them qualify as solidly middle-aged.
Among millennials, the top cause for delaying having kids was financial: 61 percent said they didn't have enough money to start a family. Experts say millennials have been similarly daunted by the costs associated with other milestones, such as getting married and buying a home. Not yet finding the right partner was another common reason for waiting in this age group. Forty-two percent of Gen Xers echoed each of these reasons for holding off on having kids. Tellingly, however, 43 percent of millennials said they were waiting because they were emotionally unprepared for parenthood, whereas only 27 percent of the older generation said the same.
Apprehension About Infertility
Among respondents without kids, women were substantially more likely to worry than men that they might not be able to conceive. In fact, more than 6 in 10 women were worried they might not be able to have kids; however, just 1 in 10 women between the ages of 15 and 44 actually have difficulty getting or staying pregnant. Among all women surveyed, the most common cause for concern was not getting a regular period. While irregular ovulation can pose fertility challenges, there are multiple medical solutions available for women with this condition who hope to become pregnant.
Among men, only a third reported worrying about being unable to conceive. For male respondents, the most common worry was that they might not produce enough sperm to impregnate their partners. Although this condition can result from illness or hereditary factors, men with this concern can take preventative measures to avoid low sperm count troubles. These include maintaining a healthy weight and limiting one's intake of drugs and alcohol.
Pushing for Pregnancy
While the impetus to have children often comes from within, young adults often encounter pressure to consider parenthood from friends and family. In all but one age range, women were more likely to report pressure to have children from people close to them. This gender disparity has recently generated significant public scrutiny, with celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston and Chrissy Teigen decrying our culture's tendency to automatically associate femininity with maternity. In fact, the only age at which men were more likely to feel pressure to become parents was over 40, likely because it's typically more difficult for women to have children at that age.
For men and women alike, outside pressure to have children seemed to reach its peak as people reached their 30s. Past that point, nudges from friends and family seemed to decline slightly in each successive age range. Couples who decide against having kids can encounter judgment at any age, however. Despite growing numbers of adults without children in America, psychological studies have demonstrated that couples who elect not to have kids elicit strikingly harsh judgments from strangers.
Fertility and Desirability
If the desire to have children remains prevalent among young people, then they might naturally be interested in the fertility of their prospective partners. In fact, 48 percent of men and 50 percent of women thought members of the opposite sex would view infertility as a deal breaker in selecting potential mates. Experts note that this perceived risk of rejection makes discussions about fertility daunting in early-stage relationships. Many fear addressing fertility challenges will drive new love interests away, but waiting too long might set a tone of secrecy.
Thankfully, men and women were far less likely to deem infertility a deal breaker than members of the opposite sex imagined. Fewer than 1 in 5 women said it would dissuade them from a relationship, and men were even less likely to feel that way. These attitudes could reflect the wide array of possibilities now available to aspiring parents who struggle to get pregnant: In recent decades, the medical community has made massive advances in developing and improving fertility treatments.
Individuals' fertility worries may stem from misinformation. Critics assert that even sex education curriculums offer inaccurate accounts of conception and pregnancy in many states. While our participants were more likely to believe true statements pertaining to getting pregnant, we uncovered plenty of confusion as well. For example, 25 percent thought birth control can cause infertility after ceasing use, and a third felt men needed to reach orgasm to impregnate their partners. A significant portion of the population also believed in well-circulated conspiracy theories, such as the persistent rumor that Mountain Dew can reduce fertility.
In some cases, however, the science behind a given belief is somewhat nuanced. While some studies suggest tight underwear can reduce sperms counts, for instance, there's considerable debate as to whether wearing briefs actually affects fertility. In other instances, though, unequivocal facts about fertility were widely discounted. Just 57 percent knew men can produce viable sperm at any age, although it must be said that male fertility does decline with age. Moreover, 72 percent of people knew that one's weight could impact fertility, and there is a medical consensus that being over or underweight can cause problems in getting pregnant.
When asked which methods they'd try if they could not conceive naturally, three-quarters of respondents said they'd be willing to seek adoption. Indeed, some researchers suggest that the trend in couples waiting to become parents has led to widespread interest in adoption, causing some families to adopt internationally. Another 47 percent of respondents said they'd try IVF treatments. More couples might consider this route if it were more affordable: A single round of treatments can cost over $20,000. A similar percentage said they'd try fertility drugs as well.
The appeal of other approaches seemed more limited. Just 20 percent said they'd attempt intrauterine insemination, and only 16 percent were open to donor eggs or embryos. Despite the attention paid to surrogacy after Kim Kardashian employed the method to have her third child, just 18 percent of individuals said they'd consider it. Another contingent said they wouldn't try any of these alternative methods: 11 percent of respondents said their pregnancies would occur naturally or not at all.
Successful Conception Strategies
Finally, we turned to those who already had kids to gauge their pregnancy and conception experiences. While the majority of respondents in each generation reported their pregnancies were planned, baby boomers were most likely to say so. In some ways, this finding seems counterintuitive, as contraceptive options have only expanded over time. But that statistic could also reveal contrasts in each generation's intentions: Perhaps the desire for children was more intense in this older age group.
Millennials, conversely, were the most likely to report seeking help with conception from a physician. That figure could indicate a reduction in the long-standing stigma surrounding infertility, which advocates have sought to combat through recent social media campaigns. Others took a different approach to improve their odds, with over 25 percent of couples having sex at least once a day until they successfully conceived. There's science supporting a vigorous approach to conception. Pregnancy rates are highest among those who make love at least every other day.
Having Kids: A Complicated Question
While our findings suggest many young people feel significant pressure to become parents, the majority earnestly desire to have kids one day. Accordingly, their reasons for delaying parenthood are typically mature and practical: They worry about beginning this chapter of their life before they're financially prepared to do so or having kids with the wrong partner. Perhaps our findings remind us to respect others' choices concerning the timing of starting a family, even if we fear they may face challenges later. Our results suggest they might be worrying about the of difficulties having kids already, so we'd be better to lend them our support instead.
If our culture's age expectations concerning pregnancy are evolving, medical advances also present new possibilities for individuals in every generation. Where we once accepted a decline in vitality later in life, cutting-edge treatments now help people to remain vigorous long past their 40s. BodyLogicMD offers an unparalleled network of physicians with specific expertise in optimizing your well-being across your lifetime. Consult our team of professionals to learn how we can help you stay energized at any age.
Methodology and Limitations
To compile the data presented above, we surveyed 1,003 American adults to understand their opinions and feelings toward children, parenting, and infertility. The survey pool was comprised of 538 women, 462 men, and three who selected other options. Ages of respondents ranged from 18 to 82 with an average of 36 years old and a standard deviation of 10.91. 574 respondents were parents, and 429 did not have kids. Since the data were collected through a survey and rely on self-reported information, the project is subject to common biases and limitations of self-reported data such as telescoping, recency bias, and more.
Sources for Fertility Theories Graphic
Fair Use Statement
In some ways, we feel like that this project is our baby – and we hope it will make its mark on the world. Help us reach that goal by sharing this project for noncommercial purposes. When you do, link back to this page so that you can credit its proud parents (the hardworking folks on our team).