NY & SF: Parents are waiting till their 30s. And the rest of America?

Couples trying to decide on the best time to start a family have traditionally been influenced by factors such as personal lifestyle preferences and goals, not to mention pressure from grandparents-to-be.

Age? Well, that matters – the potential for birth defects brought about by DNA fragmentation intensifies as men get older – but, surprisingly, research shows that age also plays a role in starting families when it comes to where they live. So, too, does education.

In fact, a recent analysis conducted for the New York Times of U.S. birth certificate data stretching as far back as 1980 indicates that the age at which women chose to conceive can vary greatly, with education and geography being the strongest factors. The ages of new parents have increased overall, as well, with new fathers averaging 31, as opposed to 27 in 1972; new mothers start at 26 now, five years older than before.

According to the NYT, women conceiving for the first time tend to be older in larger cities as well as coastal areas, but younger in less populated areas, including the South and Great Plains: “In New York and San Francisco, their average age is 31 and 32. In Todd County, S.D., and Zapata County, Tex., it’s half a generation earlier, at 20 and 21.”

Digging further into the data, the analysis shows that the age-difference factor for women starting families skews along others that are perceived as dividing the country, with the most significant one being education. On average, women who graduate from college have children seven years later than those without a diploma, taking advantage of that time to fortify their incomes and career paths.

Women with the means to aim for an upper-middle class lifestyle understandably wait to start families in order to gain this advantage, while those who don’t envision that sort of future also understandably opt to have kids earlier to achieve a greater sense of self-fulfillment.

Plainly put, then, money and lifestyle play huge roles, as determined by geographically available opportunities, backed up by stats from the NYT analysis: The average age of a first birth to college-educated women in San Francisco County, Calif. is 33.4. In Pitkin County, Colo. (where the tony ski town of Aspen is the county seat), it’s 32.9, and in Middlesex County, Mass., which borders the Atlantic Ocean, it’s 31.7.

But what about men, who don’t face some of the same time constraints for starting families as their distaff counterparts?

A 2017 study from the Stanford University School of Medicine shows that, since 1972, the age of fathers in the U.S. has grown by 350 percent. What’s more, men over the age of 40 account for roughly 9 percent of all births, with men older than 50 ticking that total up one more percentage point.

As with women, said the Stanford study, men who hold college degrees tend to wait longer before starting a family. “Paternal age rose with more years of education; the typical newborn’s father with a college degree is 33.3 years old.” And the average gap between first-time fathers and mothers dropped to 2.3 years in 1985, compared to 2.7 years in 1972.

Dr. Michael Eisenberg, an assistant professor of urology at Stanford University School of Medicine, who served as the study’s senior author, told KQED that this finding suggests “a bit more parity now between parents”, which Eisenberg views as a positive development.

It also calls for an introduction: Geographical and educational factors, please meet your gender equity cousins. It’s not merely men and women deciding separately to conceive that’s pushing the first-time age upward, but when that life change will foreseeably be best for both people. This would seem to apply whether people choose to chase an expensive urban lifestyle or to hang on to the comforts of their rural surroundings – including the support of extended family members, whether they have remained close to their roots or scattered to the far regions of the country.

Furthermore, says Eisenberg in a Stanford press release, “Contraception is more reliable and widespread. Women have become more integrated into the workforce”.

Which brings us to yet another issue stemming from the decision to conceive later rather than earlier in life: A populace that waits until later in life to have kids results in a reduction in the average family size over a long period of time, which means that there will be fewer productive workers in succeeding generations – a critical factor not just potentially in the U.S., but already playing out in other first-world countries, like Germany and Japan.

Last but certainly not least, there’s this to consider, says the NYT: Where children start out in life significantly influences how and where they wind up. After all, what might be best for a childless couple today might not work so well for their projected offspring a few tomorrows later. And everyone, regardless of where they live or how much they earn, wants a better life for their children.

Fortunately for the Legacy man, choosing where to start a career as well as to begin a family can happen in a flexible framework when valuable assets are proactively stored and protected for when he and his partner determine when – and where – to best use them.