There’s always something that’s standing in the way of the “right” time to have kids. We used to put our careers on hold for family. Now, we put families on hold to have a career and abide by societal milestones—to hit this certain salary, own that home, land the job, marry the right partner—before even thinking about children. We have a lot more opportunities and authority in our lives, but fertility is getting more complicated. About one in six couples struggle to conceive, and for the first time in history, more women are having their first kid in their thirties than in their twenties.
This tension has been on my mind since Modern Fertility put out new research with SoFi earlier this year for Infertility Awareness Week, which explored the relationship between fertility, careers, money, and COVID-19. We found that women very rarely feel that they’re ever at the right place to have kids, whether they’re making $25,000 a year or $200,000 a year.
There’s a new image of idealism that’s creating an endless list of checkboxes that we feel we have to hit in order to be ready to have children if that’s ever even attainable. It’s leading to us always wanting more, which fuels both ambition and feelings of inadequacy, across our careers, finances, relationships, and families—precisely the areas where we now have more freedom. We’re following a set of standards that’s demanding and unrealistic, if not arbitrary.
Of the nearly 2,000 people with ovaries we surveyed, 49% were actively delaying families, with money being the single most important reason why across the board. Sixty percent said they wanted more money saved, and 51% said they wanted to earn more money first. It signals a universal feeling of not having enough, no matter what you have.
This finding is congruent with other research. A recent study in Nature Human Behavior found that the ideal income for life satisfaction in North America was $105,000, and earnings past this point coincided with lower levels of happiness.
The runner-up reason for delaying kids was also quite interesting: 47% of respondents said they want to travel more first (when that’s a thing again). When reading this, it’s easy to default to quips about millennial wanderlust, but I think it’s worth closer consideration. I personally love to travel and think there’s a lot to be gained by learning through this kind of exploration. However, it’s important to consider how this trend is often at odds with career growth and family planning. You can’t really have it both ways.
These competing priorities are magnified in light of the times, with COVID-19. There’s a lot of chatter about a baby boom coming from people being cooped up together for so long, but our early data tells a different story. Almost one in three respondents say they’ve changed their fertility plans due to COVID-19, primarily because of concerns about access to prenatal care and financial stability. Almost one in five participants delaying due to COVID-19 cited an inability to move forward with fertility treatments due to temporary clinic closures.
These findings are very aligned with a recent study by Guttmatcher Institute, which found that 33% of women are either postponing pregnancy or planning to have fewer children due to COVID-19—while 17% reported wanting to have a child sooner.
While there’s a lot I think society can change to help women navigate fertility decisions (that’s an article for another time), I hope this data brings clarity to challenges women face when striving for success, so we ultimately feel less isolated or unprepared. We now know that about half of people with ovaries are delaying kids, regardless of income, because they’re holding out for some life change. And I am one of them. If half of us are in it together, doesn’t that make uncertainty the norm? I personally find comfort in knowing that we all don’t know when the perfect time to start a family is—probably because there isn’t a perfect time at all.
Afton Vechery is cofounder and CEO of Modern Fertility.