The Financial Benefits of Delayed Motherhood

I suppose this is more or less what most people already think, but I see that last week Tracy Clark-Flory wrote up some research indicating that having kids when you’re young has some very deleterious financial consequences:

It looks as though waiting to have kids literally pays off. The results of a preliminary study out of the University of Maryland and the University of California at Los Angeles show that women who delay motherhood end up being better off financially than those who get straight to making babies.

Researchers looked at more than three decades of data on 2,200 women born in the late ’40s and early ’50s. Women who gave birth after age 26 enjoyed financial benefits well into their 50s. (Oof. Way to wind up the biological clock of this 26-year-old.) It makes perfect sense: Women who delay childbirth and join the workforce right away are more likely to get the education and on-the-job experience that can lead to better-paid positions. More surprising, though, is the fact that women who delay motherhood generally make as much as childless women, thereby escaping what is known as the financial “motherhood penalty.”

Perhaps relatedly, the latest numbers have the US birthrate declining overall but rising among women over the age of 40. Unfortunately, we seem to have created a world in which the realities of the economic system are in some tension with biological realities. To an extent, we’re overcoming that with technological (and perhaps genetic?) change that will let people have kids later in life. But it would be very nice to also try to change our society to make it less punitive to mothers. Career paths have been designed with the implicit assumption that the people in the paths will be men, and that those men will have wives to backstop them for child-care purposes. That assumption’s been outdated for a generation or two at this point but we haven’t done much to change the superstructure of institutions built around it.