Today’s 40-somethings have rejected the one-size-fits-all model.
Being in your 40s today isn’t like it was in your parents’ day—and certainly not your grandparents’. Though the decade itself has always been a pretty good deal—you’re mature enough to have learned a thing or two and young enough to enjoy it—the experience today is vastly different.
Consider life’s greatest gifts—love and family, work, friends, personal growth—and how many different ways there are to explore them. There are freedoms unimaginable in Grandma’s day; opportunities Dad could have only dreamed of. In the past, it was nearly a given that Grandma would marry and have children (by a certain age, no less); and as recently as 1983, stay-at-home dads were such a rarity that the movie Mr. Mom was considered an unlikely comedy.
With these broadened opportunities come—of course!—the challenges. As podcast host Faith Salie points out, “40-somethings are old enough to run the free world but still wrestle with problems like ‘Should I rent or own? Do I get Botox or bangs? If I like Bon Jovi, does it have to be ironically?'”
Talkin’ ‘Bout Our Generation
One of the easiest ways to gauge the number and increased variation of choices? Ask 40 40-somethings about their paths, and you’ll get 40 different answers. You’ll meet five of them in Faces of the 40s—a photo/audio gallery that includes Suzanna Stola, whose ex-husband is a stay-at-home-dad who lives with her mom, and Raymond Moore, whose family get-togethers include his partner, his partner’s grandmother and his own aging mother.
What’s considered a family today? Who’s included in that family? When you were a kid (a college student, a young 30-something), is the life you have today what you envisioned then?
Percentage of children living in a home with married (heterosexual) parents
In 1960, 73% of children lived in a home with married (heterosexual) parents. Twenty years later, the percentage dropped to 61%. Today, it’s less than half (48%).
Source: Pew Research Center
Today, family is what you say it is. You can weigh in with your perspective by clicking on the option that most closely fits your description in our poll—and see how others are defining their families in real-time.
Making Decisions—and Counting Your Blessings
Having spent her 30s as a touring dancer, Denise LaPointe—also featured in Faces of the 40s—was dealing with a growing anxiety about motherhood: Should she or shouldn’t she? The answer, when it came, was liberating—and one that may have come more easily today than it might have in the 1970s, when just 10% of women ended their childbearing years without having children. (The percentage today has doubled.)
The one-size-fits-all nuclear family may not be for everyone, but now the decisions are yours to make. So, too, are the feelings of peace, acceptance and clarity that can come along with them.
There are challenges along with the blessings. Different though your own circumstances may be, you might be able to identify with 45-year-old Sue Ciano, profiled in the video Under One Roof. Her father made $125 a week back in the 1960s but, she marvels: “My parents were able to build their house and raise four children, all on one salary.” She and her husband are a dual-income couple, but when she became pregnant at 41, they moved into her parents' basement to save money.
It may not sound ideal, but aside from making economical sense, it has this undeniable benefit: A daughter who gets plenty of grandparent time and an enormous backyard—the same one Ciano herself played in as a girl.
Kids? No Kids? Kids Later? Your Call
Another boon to being a 40-something today: You may be having a blast with your kids off in college; you could be expecting your first-born this year; or you may be choosing to eschew child-rearing altogether. Studies support what you already know from your Facebook feed: 40-somethings are all over the map when it comes to childbearing. (The CDC reports that the “first birth rate” for women age 40 to 44 has increased by close to 60% in 15 states since 2012.)
So if you’re a first-time parent in your 40s, you’re not alone. Like all choices regarding family, love and work, there are pros and cons. The first of our four-episode podcast covers “later-in-life” parenthood. One guest, Kimberly Birbrower, acknowledges that she was put off by the “advanced maternal age” label when she became pregnant with twins at age 40. “I felt like I was being flagged, you know, like when they’re checking all the eggs as they’re going down the conveyor belt.” Podcast host Faith Salie, herself a first-time mom at 41, laughs in agreement, but says: “I kind of wore it as a badge of pride!” Tags and labels aside, Birbrower feels having children at this point in her life was the right choice. Being able to make these decisions—and live comfortably with them—is just one of the benefits of being 40-something today.
On the Map: You Are Here
Where are you in the stories you find here? Do you have more in common with the “hip grandpa" in Faces of the 40s who had kids young and is looking forward to enjoying himself and being the life of the party? Or with the parents with newborns or toddlers? Are you part of the sandwich generation, meeting the needs of kids (or grown-children) in addition to your aging parents? Or do you find yourself nodding in agreement with the personal perspectives of four 40-something culture commentators in this thought-provoking Perspectives on Family?
These, along with the other diverse stories you’ll see, hear and read about here, are reminders that there is no one right way to structure your family. Find inspiration here—at home, in your friendships, at work, wherever!—to spend the next forty years defining your life and family in ways that make sense and have meaning to you.
You may find that this freedom—the wider range of opportunities and choices—explains why you feel somehow younger than your parents did when they were your age. And this feeling that we are at an earlier stage of life than previous generations is based in fact: Americans’ life expectancy has been increasing pretty steadily over the past 50 years, according to the CDC. As Birbrower says, “I think I have dysphoric age disorder, or something where I think I’m younger than I am….I feel like I have so much more ahead of me. And it feels great.”