There is no right age to have a baby that works for everyone. Women are typically able to have children from adolescence through menopause, while males may remain fertile well into their 60s or 70s.
Economic issues, lengthy educational careers, and personal preference now mean that for many people, the time when they are the most fertile may no longer be the best or most practical time for them to have a baby.
People in industrialized nations are waiting longer to have children than they once did.
A 2017 study found that the average age of the father of a newborn in 2015 was 30.9, compared to 27.4 in 1972. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 2016 saw a higher birth rate for women aged 30–34 than for women aged 25–29. This occurred for the first time since 1940, when these data became available.
Economic factors play a significant role in a person’s decision to have a baby. Some public health experts have suggested that the recession may have led to a “baby bust.”
In this article, we look at factors that contribute to the best time to have a baby. We also explain the biological limits on males and females, the emotional and financial effects, and what to do if a person misses their ideal age to conceive.
Fertility begins in adolescence when a teenager enters puberty, and then steadily increases for several years. Typically, the 20s mark a time of high fertility for both males and females.
According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, females experience a slight reduction in fertility in their early 30s, and this will decrease significantly between the ages of 35 and 45. A healthy 30-year-old has about a 20% chance of pregnancy each month. By age 40, that figure reduces to less than 5% per cycle.
There is no set age-related limit on male fertility, though sperm quality declines slightly as a male ages. By the time a male is in his 60s, a reduction in number and quality of the sperm might make it more difficult to conceive.
Age is not the only factor that may affect a person’s ability to conceive. Around 12–13% of couples in the U.S. have problems becoming pregnant, regardless of age.
Individual health — including conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis that may affect fertility — is just as important as typical age-related fertility patterns.
Some questions people might ask about biological readiness include:
- What are the odds of a successful pregnancy at my age?
- Would delaying pregnancy for a year or two significantly decrease my fertility?
- Do I have any medical conditions that might affect fertility or that warrant treatment before trying to become pregnant?
There is no definitive time or age to have a baby. Everyone is different. Some people feel psychologically well-prepared to have a baby in their early 20s, while others do not.
Having a baby can bring emotional and psychological challenges and may require:
- a willingness to seek help when necessary
Most new research suggests that a person’s brain does not fully develop until the age of 25 years. Some people may choose to wait until they are cognitively, emotionally, and financially prepared to have a baby.
Some questions people can ask themselves about whether they are ready to have a baby include:
- Do I feel able to care for a child?
- Am I willing to change my lifestyle or delay some of my goals to have a child?
- What do I hope my life will look like after my child has grown up?
- What do I hope to accomplish before having a baby?
It can take many years for people to feel financially prepared to have a child. This may involve having a stable job, secure accomodation, or owning a home.
According to one survey, the median age of first-time homebuyers is now 32 years old, compared to around 29 years old in the 1980s.
More people than ever are also pursuing college degrees. Most people finish college in their early- to mid-20s, and it may take a couple of years for them to feel financially stable after college. Also, many graduates are paying off significant student loans.
These factors combined may mean that many people are not ready to have a child until their late 20s or early 30s. Some may need even longer, especially if they live in areas with a high cost of living.
There is a significant gap in the average age at which a person has a baby, and this largely depends on where a person lives. In New York, the average age that a woman has her first baby is 31, compared to 20 or 21 in rural regions of South Dakota and Texas. These age differences may be due to both financial differences and cultural norms.
Some financial questions people can ask themselves include:
- Will having a child affect my ability to earn an income or finish my education?
- Do I know the average cost of having a child in my area?
- Do I have health insurance?
- Can I afford to support a child without help?
- Would waiting a year or two help me become more financially stable?
It might be impossible for a person to predict the exact right time for them to have a baby.
Some individuals might be biologically ready to have a child in their 20s but not in the right place financially and emotionally. This does not mean that they have missed the opportunity to have a child. Individuals must consider all factors before making a decision that suits them.
However, women must be aware that they cannot have a baby after menopause. The average age of menopause is 51, and most people will experience a significant dip in hormones in the years leading up to menopause.
While there is no specific age at which males can no longer conceive, their sperm does change and reduce in number as they age. Although many males are still able to conceive in their 60s and beyond, their sperm may not be as genetically healthy.
If people miss their biological window for having a baby, it may still be possible to have children via the use of donor sperm or eggs, adopting an embryo, or adopting a child.
While people can still have children if they miss their financial or psychological ideal times, they may find having a baby more stressful, more exhausting, or less rewarding.
Having a baby can change a person’s life, and many people never feel fully prepared for it.
While fertility declines with age, most healthy women are biologically able to have a baby until menopause, and most healthy males are still fertile in their 60s and 70s. As people age, some risks associated with pregnancy and birth increase.
There is no single right time to have a baby that works for all people. Instead, people must weigh the risks and benefits and then make a decision that feels consistent with their values and goals for the future.