walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

sources! sources! Please!

I don't know how I missed this when it came out, but there was an article a few months ago in the Atlantic about fertility decline with age.


This is a very odd article.

I think that the author is referring to this article:


When she writes this:

"I scoured medical-research databases, and quickly learned that the statistics on women’s age and fertility—used by many to make decisions about relationships, careers, and when to have children—were one of the more spectacular examples of the mainstream media’s failure to correctly report on and interpret scientific research.

The widely cited statistic that one in three women ages 35 to 39 will not be pregnant after a year of trying, for instance, is based on an article published in 2004 in the journal Human Reproduction. Rarely mentioned is the source of the data: French birth records from 1670 to 1830. The chance of remaining childless—30 percent—was also calculated based on historical populations.

In other words, millions of women are being told when to get pregnant based on statistics from a time before electricity, antibiotics, or fertility treatment."

Okay, let's think about this for just a minute.

(1) The Human Reproduction article in question (IF I have correctly identified it) concludes with this advice:

"We draw two general recommendations. The message for a woman aged <35 years trying to conceive is: be patient. If the woman fails to conceive within a year, the chances of conceiving subsequently are still substantial: more than half of those still childless after 1 year will conceive during the next 2 years. The message for women aged ≥35 years is: be impatient. The chances of a rapid spontaneous conception are still significant, but in case of failure, ART will not fully compensate for the years (and the chances of conceiving) lost."

I have NO IDEA what intervening media representation the author is referring to and I cannot bring myself to try to figure _that_ out, but the author of the "offending" 2004 article would appear to have come to pretty reasonable conclusions -- conclusions highly compatible with Twenge's. I'm prepared to concede that secondary coverage screwed this up pretty bad -- but it seems a little odd that Twenge attacks this source (I think) while being nearly 100% in agreement with its conclusions, if she could bring herself to think about (care about) the 1-3% of women who might be having trouble conceiving after age 35-40. Also, wow she's pretty cavalier with 1,3, and 13% rates of chromosomal abnormalities.

(2) Grandmothers and mothers have been pressuring their granddaughters and daughters to make babies WITHOUT "science" being involved since time immemorial. Nothing is going to stop this.

(3) "How did the baby panic happen in the first place? And why hasn’t there been more public pushback from fertility experts?" Okay, deep breaths here. My mother was sort of the last gasp of an idea that said women should _never_ have children after 30. So the "baby panic" is a reversion towards a mean. Not sure what the mean is, but the no-kids-after-30 thing was WAY early for stopping having kids -- and the wait until you are nearly 40 to have the first one is insanely late for having kids. As a norm. We're going to have cultural values conflict on this one until we settle into a new norm.

(4) If women delay childbearing because they are economically and personally better off by doing so, but then collectively discover that at least some of their friends can't have babies at all as a result, then the group is going to "learn" that they waited too long. But, there's going to be resistance to _that_ because, no husband, cats, living above biker bar, etc. What we probably need to do societally is to make sure we have better support systems for women to have a good life arc -- comparable lifetime income, type of thing -- whether they have their babies starting at 20 or starting at 40. That will take more adjustments than we have made so far, but if we sit around saying, later! Just Wait and It Will Be Better, we kind of fucked some people up who don't get to have the family they wanted. And if we say, Must Have Kids Now, then we're going to fuck some other people up, because they are not "ready" yet, and will have to make too many of the wrong kind of sacrifices.

This isn't something we are going to solve with advice, or with, hey, this is what worked for me. This one will take considerably heavier lifting, and we're more likely to come up with a just and equitable outcome if we take seriously the ramifications of waiting until the late 30s to have kids (you'll be in your late 50s when they're heading out the door, for one thing, and you'll have less of a chance to be a helpful grandma. And helpful grandmas are amazingly awesome and the basis for a whole lot of economic success for their daughters), rather than being all reassuring and hey, all _my_ friends are fine.

Because I've heard entirely too many horror stories of marriages destroyed by unsuccessful ART. I don't really want to see that replicated any more than is absolutely necessary.

ETA: Damn, totally forgot to mention this. People who think that couples were not limiting fertility in the 19th century are silly. Also, lots of couples lived apart/stopped having sex entirely, so hardly surprising they didn't have more babies. And summarizing people deciding to stop having kids this way is sort of asinine:

"(Having more children of course makes it more difficult to fit in sex, and some couples surely realized—eureka!—that they could avoid having another mouth to feed by scaling back their nocturnal activities.)"

First, having more children does not necessarily make it more difficult to fit in sex. And pretty sure all couples understood that if you stopped having sex, you stopped having babies. Every anthropology 101 class makes sure their students understand that when people tell them they don't know about the sex-baby connection, they are lying or joking around. Applies to history as well.
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