Would you like some Geritol with that baby formula?

A new book suggests that being an older mother has its advantages.

Published October 29, 2007 10:25PM (EDT)

After all the hand-wringing about older mothers spawning babies with health problems, the infertility madness and those strange gray-haired non-grandmothers at the playground, a new book is offering vindication for older mothers. According to a Guardian story that mentions the forthcoming book "Ready: Why Women Are Embracing the New Later Motherhood," by University of Houston English professor Elizabeth Gregory, there are many reasons why older mothers are not only better parents but better off than their younger counterparts.

First the good news. According to Gregory, who interviewed over 100 women for her book and incorporated related research, older mothers have higher marriage rates (85 percent), and those who do remain single enjoy more stable support systems. With more established careers, they tend to make more money, enjoy more financial security and exhibit greater self-confidence. Their advanced careers often mean they've developed managerial skills that transfer well to the complexities of running a household. What's more, older mothers tend to live longer than younger ones. Best of all, mature mothers are generally emotionally ready to become parents. "For the women I spoke with, and for their families, the new later motherhood experience has had overwhelmingly positive effects," Gregory told the Guardian. "These women live in a very different world from the one the media portray. They enjoy motherhood immensely and most combine it with satisfying work. These women feel they've come to motherhood prepared and that their children, their marriages, their careers and their sanity are the better for it."

As an "older mother" surrounded by geezers like me, I'm tempted to respond, "Hurray, we rock!" and leave it at that. As many mothers have noted in response to the article, it's nice to be "validated" and at least be able to pile some countervailing evidence against the onslaught of anti-older-mother hysteria.

But the implied cause and effects of the "older moms are better" arguments don't completely convince me. For one thing, some of the cited studies define older mothers as age 30 and up, which seems to be stacking the deck against younger mothers. (Caveat: I haven't read Gregory's book, so I don't know whether this is her argument or simply a widespread simplification by the press.) Also, since I'd guess that older mothers come from more educated or privileged backgrounds already, we should compare older mothers with younger mothers from exactly the same cultural and educational backgrounds. It's not really fair to compare the financial stability, confidence and life expectancy of an uneducated 25-year-old to a college-educated 40-year-old.

In the end, it's a chicken-and-egg question: Does waiting to become a parent allow women to build stronger relationships, bigger savings accounts and more worldliness, or are the very women who have cultural advantages that make later motherhood attractive naturally going to enjoy more stability, confidence and health as a result of such advantages?

By Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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