Dreading The ‘Grandchildren’ Thanksgiving Talk? Older First-Time Moms May Live Longer

Amidst the awkward barrage of family disfunction that is the American Thanksgiving tradition, there is one constant: the interrogation of career-focused twentysomethings about  why they haven’t given their parents any grandchildren yet. Knowing that much of our entrepreneurial young readers fall into this troubled demographic, we thought it would be helpful for them to know about a new book that can arm them with evidence for a compelling retort: older first-time moms may live longer.

Parents who set aside domestic life to nurture a lucrative nest egg can “reasonably expect optimal health outcomes from delaying motherhood into their thirties,” says Robin Marantz Henig and Samantha Henig in Twentysomething: Why Do Young Adults Seem Stuck?

The Psychology Today excerpt of the newly released book pulls largely from a study of 1,890 mothers, which found that those who had their first child at age 34 had the best outcomes in terms of chronic illnesses, mobility problems, self-reported malaise, and, perhaps most importantly, mortality. “A woman who had her first child at 34 is likely to be, in health terms, 14 years younger than a woman who gave birth at 18,” said John Mirowsky, the study’s author.

The latter half of the 20th century saw a radical shift from family to career focus when the median age of first-time motherhood skyrocketed six years, from roughly age 20 in 1960 to age 26 in 2012 [PDF]. But the proud social evolution from our primal roots, which gave women unprecedented levels of education, opportunities for creative pursuits, and social status, could come with a heavy trade-off: older mothers have a higher probability of miscarriage, stillbirth, and infertility, according to Mirowsky. The human female, biologically speaking, is built for young baby-making. “Humans mature reproductively about a decade before Americans mature socially.”

Like any good academic study, the evidence is far from conclusive (shhhh, don’t tell this next part to your parents). One Canadian research team finds that “timing of the first birth, on the other hand, does not seem to bear strong influence on longevity.”

The problem with finding a definitive answer is a simple statistical limitation: all of the studies are correlational, so there’s a host of variables, like personality or family support, that can’t reliably be sorted out. “Experimental research tracking the effect of fertility on longevity is obviously not possible with human subjects,” acknowledges the team. (If only we could randomly impregnate people–damn you ethics!)

“The 20s are like the stem cell of human development, the pluripotent moment when any of several outcomes is possible. Decisions and actions during this time have lasting ramifications,” wrote Robin Marantz Henig in the New York Times. Many entrepreneurs, have chosen to veer off into the unpredictable world of risky start-ups, cramped apartment-dwelling, and all-nighters.

Our young entrepreneurial readers may be better-equipped to joust their parents this Thanksgiving, justifying their decision not just in terms of opportunity, but now also for their own health.

Still, parents may have an important point. Adolescent delay is a game of chicken: there’s only so long you can stave off family life until you reach a cliff of declining opportunity. I’ll leave you with a much more insightful (and funnier) representation of this modern day dilemma with a clever rendition of two women, one aged 29, and the other 31.