American Men Are Becoming Dads Later Than Ever

And the consequences could be huge.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

The average age of first-time dad’s in the U.S. is now almost 31 years old, according to a new study in Human Reproduction.

A team lead by Yash S. Khandwala, now a medical student at the University of California, San Diego, used federal data stretching from 1972 to 2015, crunching the numbers on more than 168 million births. They found that over that stretch, the average age at which American men became dads rose from 27.4 years to 30.9 years. Guys with college degrees were even older when they had their first child—33.3 years, mirroring maternity trends.

As Megan Thielking reports for STAT, first-time dads in the Northeast region of the U.S. were the oldest, at 31.8 years. Among ethnic groups, African American dads were the youngest, at 30.4 years, and Japanese and Vietnamese-American men were the most aged, at 36 years old for their first child’s birth. The age difference between first time mothers and fathers also shrunk, from 2.7 to 2.3 years.

Economists and demographers worry about these trends: when people have kids later, they end up having fewer of them, possibly leading the smaller subsequent generations, who’d then have to support the economy, the social safety net and their aging parents. The US isn’t quite there yet, but “demographic time bomb” scenarios are starting to play out in Japan and South Korea, where the population of the elderly has just eclipsed that of the young. Other research indicates that immigration is what’s keeping the U.S. youthful relative to other highly developed countries.

There’s a strong workplace element to all this. As Richard Jackson, president of the nonprofit Global Aging Institute and author of Graying of the Great Powers, once explained to me, when societies make it hard to combine work and family, you end up with fewer kids that are had later in life. For women—and men—policies that help people “balance jobs and children are the linchpin of any effective pronatal strategy,” he writes. So in America, some paternity leave changes might be in order. 

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