Actress Kim Fields Pregnant at Age 44
- Recently Kim Fields (of Living Single and Facts of Life fame) announced she was pregnant her second child. The 44-year-old actress said she and her husband tried to conceive for a couple of years (they have a six-year-old son), before finding out that she was pregnant.
- Fields’ story is not quite unique, but it further highlights a growing trend of women waiting longer to have children.
- But should we?
- In this month’s Atlantic magazine, Jean M. Twenge argues that everything women have been told about our ability to have children after 35 is wrong. While women have been told that our fertility decreases drastically after age 35, (Link): Twenge poured through the data and found that is not quite true.
- Aug 2013
JEAN TWENGEJUN 19 2013, 10:05 PM ET
- Deep anxiety about the ability to have children later in life plagues many women. But the decline in fertility over the course of a woman’s 30s has been oversold. Here’s what the statistics really tell us—and what they don’t.
- …I was lucky: within a few years, I married again, and this time the match was much better. But my new husband and I seemed to face frightening odds against having children. Most books and Web sites I read said that one in three women ages 35 to 39 would not get pregnant within a year of starting to try. The first page of the ASRM’s 2003 guide for patients noted that women in their late 30s had a 30 percent chance of remaining childless altogether.
- The guide also included statistics that I’d seen repeated in many other places: a woman’s chance of pregnancy was 20 percent each month at age 30, dwindling to 5 percent by age 40.
- Every time I read these statistics, my stomach dropped like a stone, heavy and foreboding. Had I already missed my chance to be a mother?
- As a psychology researcher who’d published articles in scientific journals, some covered in the popular press, I knew that many scientific findings differ significantly from what the public hears about them. Soon after my second wedding, I decided to go to the source: I scoured medical-research databases, and quickly learned that the statistics on women’s age and fertility—used by many to make decisions about relationships, careers, and when to have children—were one of the more spectacular examples of the mainstream media’s failure to correctly report on and interpret scientific research.
- The widely cited statistic that one in three women ages 35 to 39 will not be pregnant after a year of trying, for instance, is based on an article published in 2004 in the journal Human Reproduction. Rarely mentioned is the source of the data: French birth records from 1670 to 1830. The chance of remaining childless— 30 percent— was also calculated based on historical populations.
- In other words, millions of women are being told when to get pregnant based on statistics from a time before electricity, antibiotics, or fertility treatment. Most people assume these numbers are based on large, well-conducted studies of modern women, but they are not. When I mention this to friends and associates, by far the most common reaction is: “No … No way. Really?”
- Surprisingly few well-designed studies of female age and natural fertility include women born in the 20th century—but those that do tend to paint a more optimistic picture. One study, published in Obstetrics & Gynecology in 2004 and headed by David Dunson (now of Duke University), examined the chances of pregnancy among 770 European women.
- It found that with sex at least twice a week, 82 percent of 35-to-39-year-old women conceive within a year, compared with 86 percent of 27-to-34-year-olds. (The fertility of women in their late 20s and early 30s was almost identical—news in and of itself.)
- Another study, released this March in Fertility and Sterility and led by Kenneth Rothman of Boston University, followed 2,820 Danish women as they tried to get pregnant.
- Among women having sex during their fertile times, 78 percent of 35-to-40-year-olds got pregnant within a year, compared with 84 percent of 20-to-34-year-olds.
- A study headed by Anne Steiner, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, the results of which were presented in June, found that among 38- and 39-year-olds who had been pregnant before, 80 percent of white women of normal weight got pregnant naturally within six months (although that percentage was lower among other races and among the overweight). “In our data, we’re not seeing huge drops until age 40,” she told me.
- Even some studies based on historical birth records are more optimistic than what the press normally reports: One found that, in the days before birth control, 89 percent of 38-year-old women were still fertile.
- Another concluded that the typical woman was able to get pregnant until somewhere between ages 40 and 45.
- Yet these more encouraging numbers are rarely mentioned—none of these figures appear in the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s 2008 committee opinion on female age and fertility, which instead relies on the most-ominous historical data.
- In short, the “baby panic”—which has by no means abated since it hit me personally—is based largely on questionable data. We’ve rearranged our lives, worried endlessly, and forgone countless career opportunities based on a few statistics about women who resided in thatched-roof huts and never saw a lightbulb.
- In Dunson’s study of modern women, the difference in pregnancy rates at age 28 versus 37 is only about 4 percentage points. Fertility does decrease with age, but the decline is not steep enough to keep the vast majority of women in their late 30s from having a child. And that, after all, is the whole point.