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Single, Pregnant and 40-Ish: You Got a Problem With That?

Vivia Chen

February 5, 2018

Mike Pence and his ilk might not approve but I think this is an awesome development: There's a sharp increase in the number of single moms in their forties, particularly among those with advance degrees.

That includes you, women in Big Law. 

If you've been too busy working to find Mr. Right, don't fret that the baby train has passed you by. According to Pew Research Center, motherhood is no longer a younger woman's game. While women are having kids later overall, Pew also finds that "the most dramatic increase in motherhood has occurred among the relatively small group of women in their early 40s with a Ph.D. or professional degree." Now, 80 percent of those women are mothers, compared with just 65 percent in 1994.  

This demographic change means that "few women see long educations or demanding careers as a bar to having a family," writes Claire Cain Miller in The New York Times, adding that "motherhood among women who have never married has risen across racial and educational groups."

While some may find the trend of women having kids later in life troubling (the Times notes that some economists are worried about how lower fertility rates could derail the economy), I think that 15 percent motherhood uptick for older, well-educated women is generally something to celebrate.

So why is this group of women having kids later? Probably because they can. For one thing, there's seems to be little stigma to being a single mom, even in a conservative profession like law. That might have been a bit scandalous a decade or two ago, but that attitude has changed. Indeed, recently, a young female partner at a prestigious New York firm breezily told me about her plans to freeze her eggs—as if she was talking about her next teeth cleaning. Never did she express concern that it might dent her career.

Secondly, that uptick likely testifies to the prevalence—and success—of medically assisted pregnancies. I wouldn't be surprise if coverage for in vitro fertilization and other forms of reproductive assistance have become one of the must-have perks. In fact, I'm hearing that single female lawyers (associates and partners) are openly discussing egg freezing and egg donation at affinity group meetings, trading anecdotes about procedures and doctors. 

"I see more and more professional women in their thirties who want to freeze their eggs," Dr. Jane Frederick, a reproductive specialist in Southern California. "Women are taking better care of their reproductive health. They'll say, 'I know my clock is clicking and I want to freeze my eggs, so that when I’m 42 or 45, I’ll have options.' " Adds Frederick: "That way you don’t have to search for a partner when you think you're ready to have children."

What's more, it's not just single women in their 30s or 40s who are thinking ahead. "Sometimes, I'll get a call from a woman's mother, who'll say: 'I'm concerned about my daughter who is 35,' " says Frederick.

But even with assisted reproductive technology, "it's a 50/50 chance if you'll have good egg quality," warns Frederick, adding it usually runs $10,000 per procedure and that most women do three procedures in order to freeze a batch of 30 eggs.

Yes, the women who fit the demographic profile of the older, well-educated mother is likely paying a higher price for the privilege.

That said, I still think this phenomenon should be regarded as a positive. If nothing else, it puts to bed the urban legend that well-credentialed career gals are freaks of nature, doomed forever to a barren, desolate life.



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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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