More women in their late 30s and 40s are deciding to have children, a finding that researchers say may be the reversal of a trend. (Credit: “young parents with strollers” image via Shutterstock)
U. BUFFALO (US) — More older, highly educated women are choosing to have a family, but it remains unclear whether they are having children in addition to—or instead of—careers.
While it is still too early to be certain, research clearly shows fertility rising for older, highly educated women since the 1990s. (Fertility is defined as the number of children a woman has had.) Childlessness also declined by roughly 5 percentage points between 1998 and 2008.
“Women born in the late 1950s are the turning point,” says Qingyan Shang, assistant professor of economics at the University at Buffalo. Members of this group initially showed low fertility. But fertility increased for them when they reached their late 30s and early 40s.
Straight from the Source
The paper, co-authored by Bruce A. Weinberg, professor of economics at Ohio State University, appears online in the Journal of Population Economics and will be published in a forthcoming print edition.
Two previous studies which examined fertility among highly educated women had limitations and came to conflicting conclusions, Shang says. One focused only on women in their late 20s and another examined fertility for women in managerial positions.
Using a sample of professional women makes the results difficult to interpret because women who have more children may switch to other occupations, Shang says.
“We did a more comprehensive study. We instead define the sample using education, which is less responsive to short-term fertility decisions.”
The conclusions are derived from data gathered by the June Current Population Survey, compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Census Bureau. The researchers also used the Vital Statistics Birth Data from the National Center for Health Statistics as a second data set.
The research did not directly address what factors might be contributing to the fertility increase. “We did list some possible explanations based on previous research,” says Shang, including the idea of “the learning story,” in which decisions of previous generations inform later decisions by subsequent generations.
There has also been an increased supply of personal services that have reduced childcare expenses. Other research shows men may be taking more responsibility for child care.
Whether women are choosing families instead of or in addition to their careers is unclear, Shang says.
“We know these women are opting for families. We don’t know if they in turn are opting out of the labor market.”
The study also indicated an increase in multiple birth rates around 1990, suggesting fertility treatments may have played a role.
“The data does not include information about whether women used fertility treatment,” Shang says. “But we use the trends in plural birth rates to impute the share of the increase in fertility among highly educated women that is attributed to fertility treatment.”
More news from University at Buffalo: http://www.buffalo.edu/news/
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One of the biggest challenges we face in creating the lives we want is that our basic attitudes and perceptions of the world were shaped in the earliest days, months and years of our lives, long before we had a chance to form our own opinions! Through the process of “implicit learning,” wordless messages and lessons accrue via repeated experiences within our key relationships, as non-verbal regions of our brains distill the constant principles underlying those experiences. For example, you’re a baby, and you’re hungry. You cry, and before too long someone picks you up, soothes you, and feeds you. As this happens again and again, some of your “perception templates” become shaped from the principles I have an effect on my world… People are there for me… I can trust… Being close to someone feels safe. Our basic understandings of who we are and what the world is all about are a series of “neural perception templates” that were shaped for us, by our earliest experiences with the people and world around us.
Women are almost never told how their family histories,
beliefs, and emotions
affect their fertility. Knowing this information can be very empowering.
– Dr. Christiane Northrup, renowned OB/GYN Author, Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom
It is also true that some of our most potent attitudes about our reproductive capabilities are formed decades before we decide to begin a family! And in this exciting era of psychoneuroimmunology (mind-body) research, we are discovering how our hormonal, immune, and nervous systems are intimately connected with and influenced by our every thought, attitude and emotion, even ones we’re not aware of having. Along with parental attitudes about the body and its creative functions, as young children we perceive and internalize basic attitudes about such things as
• how babies come into our family (with ease, difficulty, crisis, etc.)
• whether children are loved and valued in our family
• whether it’s safe and desirable in our family to have a childwhether it’s safe and desirable in our family to be a child
Our endocrinology (hormonal profile), so critical to healthy fertility, organizes to “enact” whatever our mental and emotional perceptions dictate. (For example, a hypnotized subject touched on the forearm with a piece of chalk—but told it’s a lit cigarette—develops a raised, red “burn”; and study subjects given a harmless substance, but told it is something to which they’re highly allergic, suffer asthma attacks.) Furthermore, research finds that our healthy mind-body balance is especially affected by “feelings we don’t feel,” unconscious emotions often related to unrecognized neglect, trauma or loss in childhood. Here are two examples of this at work in women who went on to have healthy, full-term babies:
Ellyn* had been trying for a long time to get pregnant, and though there was nothing medically wrong, it just wasn’t happening. An adoptee, Ellyn had wordlessly learned a fundamental mind-body lesson throughout her growing-up years: women in our family don’t get pregnant. After working with a counselor to consciously reconnect with and “claim” the fertile part of her past—her birth mother whom she had met some years earlier—Ellyn was finally able to conceive.
Maya suffered repeated miscarriages, and her doctor could find no physical cause. In charting her family history it became painfully clear that she and her sister had been “throwaway” children, left behind in their native country when their parents emigrated seeking a better life in America. Maya gradually came to understand how she was reenacting—in a classic mind-body way—what her mother had done: she allowed herself to get pregnant but then “gave the children away.”
Sometimes inner shifts happen more spontaneously and mysteriously. We have all heard stories about “infertile” couples who spent many years and thousands of dollars on reproductive technologies with no success, adopted a baby, and then conceived naturally by surprise. People who offer infertile couples the infuriating advice “Just relax!” point to these stories as evidence for their theory. Yes, hopping off of the “conception-go-round” may have decreased stress and nudged their hormonal profile into a more conception-friendly zone, but it may also have to do with their biology adjusting to reflect their new feelings, behaviors and devotions: they had become fully engaged in mothering and fathering.
One of my favorite stories is of a 43-year-old woman who, after a year of grueling rounds of IVF, two miscarriages, and the final, dismal “expert diagnosis” that she was too old and “all of her eggs were bad,” decided to get some cats. She got her cats and “smothered them with unconditional love.” Six months later she was pregnant with her son, who is now a healthy 8-year-old.
It may be important to do some inner investigation into the invisible answers you may be carrying to basic questions about how fertility, pregnancy, birth and children were perceived in your family of origin, so that you can journey ahead into those realms fully free, right down to your biochemistry, and make the healthiest choices. (As a bonus, engaging in the creative process of mastering your own inner life is the best preparation not just for conceiving a baby, but for parenting in general!)
Once we realize how we carry on a continual dialogue with our biology—consciously and unconsciously—we can aspire to cultivate an inner ecology that is truly fit for life.
Scientists now know that a pregnant woman’s moods have a significant impact upon birth outcomes and on fetal brain development. Statistically speaking, women experiencing significant, chronic** fears and anxiety about their pregnancies are at higher risk for delivering prematurely. And in terms of her baby’s development in the womb, if a mother is constantly filled with anxiety or stress during her pregnancy, the message communicated to her baby (via stress hormones) is that they are in an unsafe environment—regardless of whether or not this is actually the case. The baby’s brain will be wired to prepare it for the unsafe environment it perceives it is going to be born into, and is more likely to be a fussy infant—hard to sooth—and later, a more temperamental child—short on attention, and impulsive.
Parents need to recognize the unceasing question being asked by the baby in the womb, and continually answered via the mother’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors: What kind of world am I coming into, Mommy, through your eyes? Then they can begin to understand how important it is for the pregnant mother to feel supported, loved, safe… and most especially, to experience joy… so their baby can arrive as healthy as possible, ready to love and learn!
The Quantum Parenting fertility program, designed to facilitate a “conception-friendly” mind-body state, is intended for use alongside fertility drugs and procedures or as an alternative to medical fertility treatment. Expectant parents benefit from Quantum Parenting’s practical guidelines for mind-body pregnancy health, for optimizing their baby’s development in the womb, and for embarking on their parenting journey in the most effective, rewarding way possible.
*Names have been changed for privacy purposes
** Remember, “chronic” means “persistent…more often than not.” Occasional stressful moments are a normal part of pregnancy and fetal development—it is life!