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Economics of Pregnancy

November 13, 2007

A new study coming out of Duke’s Fuqua School of Business has developed a model that can predict the optimum age for a woman to have a child, based on career interests, health risks, social interests, and other inputs. What sounds like a complex program gives ultimately commonplace recommendations:

If a woman feels that having a child in the early years of her career will limit her focus on work and thus significantly reduce her chances of receiving tenure, the model will indicate that the optimal age to begin to have a family is after she achieves that rank.

However, in the case of a woman who does not feel that motherhood will be a significant barrier to her pursuit of a particular milestone, the model suggests attempting to conceive a first child at a younger age. Specifically, the model can calculate for any specific situation the level of anticipated negative career impact at which an individual woman may wish to postpone having a child.

So you are saying that a woman who wants to be a brain surgeon should not have a baby at age 23? Wow, thanks complex model!

Sacrasm aside, however, the model does also give the researchers the authority to make some less obvious conclusions. Namely this:

The example of a 20-year-old college student illustrates the situation when a woman claims she does not want to have a child until she reaches a certain age, say 35 years old. The model suggests that, especially in cases where both family life and career are important to the woman, having a child much earlier may be a better long-term solution than waiting until she is more established in her career.

“It may seem surprising to suggest having a child at a younger age, even if the woman places no importance on having a child until a certain age,” Vernik said. “But the model takes into account the fact that taking a maternity leave has less impact on the future career of a woman who is a student or in the beginning of her professional life. This woman’s child will also be older and slightly more independent by the time the woman has reached the critical years of her career.”

This is important, I think, because women are waiting longer and longer to have children, largely because they want to establish themselves in their careers first. This study suggests that establishing yourself only to take a break in your career is not the best way to approach the situation, especially when other risk factors for waiting until you are older to have children are factored in.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Keri permalink
    November 13, 2007 1:02 pm

    Brilliant, now all women need to do is find someone they want to have a kid with and then have one, even if they aren’t ready yet. Someone send out an urgent memo.

  2. andy permalink*
    November 13, 2007 2:02 pm

    I will donate seed for this. A great philanthropist I am. Not at some lab though. All women who need babies, come to my apartment. After dark.

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