Today, women are more highly educated and skilled than in the past. The proportion of women who graduated from high-school has greatly increased and there are more women on the executive floors than 10 years ago. However, there is a downside to this professional commitment: These days, women are postponing motherhood and family planning to a later age – and may suffer the consequences, because it might already be too late by then…
Birth Rate: Declining
There are fewer births in Switzerland, Germany, Italy and many other European countries. The state makes its best efforts to reverse the trend – however, child allowance, expansion of daycare centers for children, paternity leave, child care subsidy, and any other supporting action by the public authorities seem to be totally ineffective.
The declining birth rates have become (once again) a source of media attention, producing sobering headlines with monotonous regularity: “Germany – bottom of the league when it comes to birth rates in Europa“, “Not keen on KIDS“, “Having children is as unattractive as it has ever been“. Various studies attempt to provide explanations for this “trend” and blame it on the lack of child-friendliness, the concerns of women to depend again on outdated role models and, last but not least, on the most challenging problem of all: finding a way to balance career and family.
The self-imposed childlessness or quite simply the nonexistent desire to have children may be due to many different reasons that vary from woman to woman. To put it in a nutshell, there are two points that we believe to be crucial: Mr. Right has not (yet) been found and/or the focus of their lives is on their job and career development.
Since there is much which needs to be said, you will soon find a blog entry on the subject of “How to find the right partner in life”. When it comes to job and career paths it stands out that professionally strongly engaged women, mainly academics, present the lowest birth rates compared to all other “groups of women”. Why is that?
Educational Attainment Levels: Increased
At the beginning of the last century, women completed their professional training – if indeed they have ever had the opportunity – when they were in their early twenties at the latest and family planning was usually completed by the time they reached their mid-twenties. At the present time, however, the average age at which women are having their first child is already above the age of 30!
One of the reasons for this is the higher degree of education and training that is attained by women today. Whereas the share of women having reached matriculation standard was only about 30% in 1960, nowadays, fortunately, this proportion has increased to almost 60%. Women have not only drawn level with, but have indeed now overtaken men. In view of this trend, some have already announced the 21th century to be the “Century of Women”.
Center of Life: Job and Career
Unfortunately, the higher educational attainment, however, involves a decisive disadvantage: Due to longer education and training periods, further life-planning will inevitably be delayed – and hence the age of childbearing.
Things are less complicated regarding men. Men have more flexibility since they are still able to father a child even at advanced age. Women, by contrast, face a dilemma: The notorious “biological clock” is colliding with the „Rush Hour of Life“ – the stage of life from the completion of professional training to starting work and different rungs on the career ladder up to the time of starting a family.
According to the Federal Government’s Family Report, particularly women in Germany come under extreme pressure during this time, “since, in contrast to other countries, the German training system, mainly with regard to academic professions, does not provide any “grading” (yet). Basically, the highest attainable educational level opens up access to the employment system”. Therefore, women and in particular academics have a limited time frame for other important personal life choices, such as having children.
Proper Timing: Later
I know a fair number of women in an academic environment who would like to have children, but for precisely that reason eventually shy away from taking the decision: Starting a family during studies is not advisable in view of the demands placed on the student as regards the knowledge to be acquired, examinations to be taken, and last but not least, the financial situation to be coped with. Studying for a doctorate is often associated with 50 – 60 working hours per week. Given that favorable child-care structures that had been promised by politicians are still far from being realized, this does not appear to be the best time to start a family. Precisely then, at the most decisive moment when you are ready to face the world of work and try to get settled, why should you take the risk of losing touch again soon after? The best time to start a family seems to be: later in life.
When the professional situation has stabilized and you have finally found the right partner to have a stable loving relationship and start a family, you are around 40 years of age. Then the prospects of conceiving a child, however, are in constant decline. From the age of 38 years onwards, the chances of getting pregnant and giving birth to a healthy baby are dropping rapidly. On the other hand, there is an increased risk for miscarriages and chromosomal aberrations in children (such as trisomy 21). This is due to an age-related decline in oocyte quality. Apart from that, the quantity and quality of the remaining oocytes will also continue to decrease with advancing age.
Solution: Social Freezing
Wouldn’t it be great to stop the passing of time and to preserve fertility and reproductive health while advancing your career and allowing your partnership to prosper? For some time now, there has been the possibility to actually make this wish come true – by means of Social Freezing! To this end, oocytes are cryopreserved for later use in fertility treatment. At first, the woman’s ovaries are stimulated by hormonal drugs to induce the growth of multiple follicles. Subsequently, the oocytes are retrieved from the ovaries via follicular aspiration; they are then vitrified and stored at -190 °C in liquid nitrogen. At a later stage, the oocytes may be thawed without sustaining damage and can thus be used in IVF treatment.
Unfortunately, freezing techniques are currently being criticized “in one dismissive sweep” (in the rarest of cases at an objective level) and the media (at least in part) are invoking horror scenarios. Women or couples considering this procedure should not worry and not get deterred by these “opinions”: Thanks to cutting-edge freezing techniques, such as vitrification, it is nowadays possible without any problems to cryopreserve oocytes, thus creating a new option to delay pregnancy and parenthood until a later (more suitable) point in life. It is simply a fact that the sooner a woman decides to take this step so much the better. Ideally, women should have their oocytes retrieved and cryopreserved before their 35th birthday.
It can be argued that this is a human intervention in natural processes. The often-used argument that Social Freezing promotes the trend towards “non-natural” reproduction, however, confuses cause and effect! Moreover, those who criticize Social Freezing are not able to offer a way out of the current dilemma.
The objection that mother and/or child might “suffer” from late maternity has been rebutted. Recent studies have shown that children born to older mothers had fewer accidents during the first five years of life and that their immunization rates (vaccination status) increased with maternal age. There was a positive correlation between later motherhood and the development of language skills and body weight in children compared to children born to younger mothers. This means that advanced maternal age seems to be associated with a better mental and physical development of the infant. Furthermore, women having their first child later in life are usually in better shape than their female colleagues of the same age who had their first child at an earlier age. Therefore the objection of “suffering” misses the point and is just a bogus argument.
Within the foreseeable future, for many women, Social Freezing is likely to remain the only option to realize their desire to have children – without being penalized in terms of career advancement. All things considered, it seems as if women with children have longer and happier lives and are less prone to mental illness – which is a major benefit for the community in general. One could hardly find a more valuable argument in favor of Social Freezing.
For further details on egg freezing in order to preserve female reproductive health, please refer to one of our following blog entries.
→ more articles concerning this topic in the Special »Social Freezing / Medical Freezing – Oocyte preservation«