At a recent cocktail party in Silicon Valley, a man in his 50s and a woman in her 40s told friends they were expecting their first child. In another era, the couple might have been considered too old, but today they represent a growing number of parents who choose to have children later in life. This choice has clear benefits, but the downsides make the creation of successful longevity technologies necessary.
The benefits of older parents are numerous and important. Perhaps the biggest advantage is the emotional stability that comes with age. Joanna Montgomery, a mother who had her first child at 44 years writes that, “I know that I would not have been a good parent in my younger days. I was too self-absorbed, too immature. Finally, in my mid-40s, I find it much easier to put the needs of others before my own. I recognize that the children really are our future.” And while people usually focus on the age of mothers at first birth, fathers benefit as much, if not more, from the increased patience that is gained with time.
Older father and author Pete Cross says that, when his friends were having kids in their mid-twenties, procreating was the last thing on his mind. “I wasn’t even ready for a goldfish,” he writes. But now, post-45, Cross says, “I can cook. I can multitask, and get up in the middle of the night, grumpy, but essentially sober.” These are important attributes, as raising children is demanding and requires a significant amount of patience. Of course, the other thing children demand is a lot of energy, and while some older parents are energetic, many find themselves wishing they were a little younger.
A UCSF study published in the Oxford Journal of Human Reproduction, interviewed parents who were 40 years or older and found that over a third of women and a quarter of men said that lack of physical energy was a disadvantage. “I wish I was 10 years younger,” said one of the participants, “I'd have more energy to keep up with my daughter, but I'm tired.”
Older parents are generally more financially secure, so one way for them to make up for their lack of energy is to hire people to help them with the kids. But even with additional help, money only goes so far, and the major problem with being an older parent is that they are closer to illness and death than their younger counterparts.
“By the time they graduate from high school, I'll be in my seventies,” one father told the UCSF researchers. “I will probably be pretty long lived because our family has a good history of it, but I won't see a lot of their adult life.” Older mother and author Judith Shulevitz presented a less optimistic view. Writing for the New Republic, Shulevitz lamented, “What haunts me about my children, though, is not the embarrassment they feel when their friends study my wrinkles or my husband’s salt-and-pepper temples. It’s the actuarial risk I run of dying before they’re ready to face the world.”
Every older parent has done this sort of calculation, either out loud or in his or her thoughts. This is the single biggest disadvantage of parenting later in life. The older you are, the more at risk you are of dying from one of the diseases of aging. This fact alone should rally thousands of parents to support longevity research. If you die, you cannot spend time with your kids, help them when they need it, or meet your grandkids.
The solution to this problem is not to force people to get married early and have children before they are ready. The solution is to fight the diseases of aging so that people can stay in better health for much longer periods of time. Scientists in the field of regenerative medicine, genomics, nanotech, and other disciplines are working to make this happen, but they can’t do it alone. It requires a concentrated movement by everyone in society who is concerned about improving health expectancy.
Policy makers, activists, journalists, educators, investors, philanthropists, analysts, entrepreneurs, and a whole host of others need to step up and literally fight for their lives before it is too late. Older parents in particular need to rally around this effort and get involved. Our kids and our families are worth it.