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Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis just released findings from a study that scrutinized the correlation between when women became mothers and their lifetime income. They found that—for both college graduates and those without a college degree—women who gave birth for the first time at age 30 or younger had lower lifetime incomes.
"The findings highlight the financial trade-offs women make when considering their fertility and career decisions," says Man Yee (Mallory) Leung, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research associate at Washington University School of Medicine. "Other studies have focused on the effect of children on women's wages, but ours is the first to look at total labor income from ages 25 to 60 as it relates to a woman's age when she has her first baby."
Intuitively, many of us already know this. It's why my husband and I held off trying to conceive when we first got married in our mid-20s. It just didn't seem like the right time. Both of us wanted to feel more financially and professionally stable before we brought a child into the world.My husband was languishing in a low-paying industry he didn't love. I was prepping to leave my full-time job in order to go full-time freelance. We were living in a one-bedroom condo with three cats because we couldn't afford more space than that.
I was 29 when we finally began trying to start a family. We were still in the condo, but we were trying to sell it so we could upgrade to a house. My income was very much up and down, but Michael had switched industries and was making much more. I had wanted to be a mom for almost forever, and I wanted to get a move on before my ovaries shriveled up and died.
During those three-and-a-half years, I experienced a mix of bitterness, anger, anguish, and hopelessness. My marriage took a hit, and my husband and I nearly separated. Every month, I prayed that I would not get my period and, every month, my heart was broken again and again and again.
Despite how agonizing the previous few years had felt, I couldn't dispute the fact that Emily had come into our lives at the perfect time, a time when we could provide for her in ways we would not have been able to before.
At the same time, we learned that we couldn't sell our condo without incurring a huge loss and, as a result, we couldn't afford to buy a house. At least, not yet. It took us a couple years before we were able to upgrade.
At the same time, as a result of our near separation, we were forced to scrutinize the cracks in our marriage and work through them until our relationship was stronger than it had been before.
At the same time, my career pivoted, and then pivoted again. I continued to live paycheck to paycheck and, one year, brought in the least amount of income of my professional career. My husband, meanwhile, lost a job, and then replaced it.
Basically, our life was in turmoil during those three-and-a-half years. Our difficulties with infertility added to that, but they weren't everything. It's hard to imagine what it would have been like had we successfully brought a child into our lives at that point.
I was 33 when my daughter was born. By that point, my husband and I had moved into a four-bedroom house in a good school district. I had finally reached a place of stability in my freelance career and motherhood seemed to provide even more opportunities. My husband's star was also steadily rising. And our marriage was solid. Despite how agonizing the previous few years had felt, I couldn't dispute the fact that Emily had come into our lives at the perfect time, a time when we could provide for her in ways we would not have been able to before.
Infertility is a bitch. I'm not going to downplay the shittiness of those years with one of those "things happen for a reason" cliches, labeling the delay in becoming parents as a silver lining.
But by the same point, statistically speaking, that delay correlates with the possibility that we will have more financial stability over the span of our lives, or at least more income. This translates to a more comfortable childhood for my daughter, which I'm grateful for. After all, when we initially waited to start a family, that was exactly what we wanted for her.
Yes, life is chaotic. That would be the case no matter when we started our family. But it's a comfortable one as well and it feels more fulfilling than ever before. And that's something I'll never regret.