Stop Stale Eggs, Jobs?

Some men see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not. Shaw

The average woman is born with around 300,000 eggs … 12 percent of those eggs remaining at the age of 30, and only 3 percent left by 40. … From the mid-30s on, the decline in fertility is much steeper with each passing year. … Female undergraduates significantly overestimated their fertility prospects at all ages. … The biological reality that female fertility peaks in the teens and early 20s can be difficult for many American women to swallow, as they delay childbirth further every year. … The older you get, the more difficult it is to get pregnant and the higher the chance of miscarriage, pregnancy problems such as gestational diabetes and hypertension, and chromosomal abnormalities such as Down syndrome. … The risk of autism increases with a mother’s age.

More here.  Also, Andrew Leigh:

We estimate the relationship between maternal age and child … learning outcomes and social outcomes. … Children of older mothers have better outcomes. … When we control for other socioeconomic characteristics, such as family income, parental education and single parenthood, the coefficients on maternal age become small and statistically insignificant.

Today high status women stay long in school, start careers, and take long to match up with a man before having kids.  They are often too late, their kids have more defects, and the interruption hurts their career.  Low status women more often have an accidental early kid out of wedlock.

Imagine a different equilibrium, where females pick a male at 15, then school more slowly to have kids till some standard age (20? 25? 30?), when females return to full-time school and uninterrupted careers.

While it is not entirely clear if this new equilibrium would be better or worse, it certainly has some positive features.  Kids and moms would be healthier, kids more numerous and less accidental, moms more energetic, older folk would enjoy more grand kids etc., and career interruptions wouldn’t make female employees suspect.

Early parenting would have to be paid for by grandparents or via loans (or perhaps income shares), presumably in trade for some loss of autonomy.  While childhood does seem to be lengthening, it is not clear if this autonomy loss could be accepted.

For the male pattern, there are two obvious variations: males switch life-plans along with females, or males stay on the current plan.  Having males also switch would keep mates at similar ages, promote healthier kids and more energetic dads, and reduce opportunities for gender discrimination.

Randomness in kid timing and number would make it a bit harder to estimate student quality based on student performance – could we find ways to correct for this?  And the fact that low status moms now have kids early makes it harder to coordinate a switch to this new equilibrium.  But still, it seems an interesting thing that never was, about which to ask: why not?

From a conversation with Rob Wiblin, Katja Grace.

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  • curious

    But still, it seems an interesting thing that never was, about which to ask: why not?

    there’s some (U.S.-centric) evidence that partners who marry later (e.g., after 25) may have more stable/lasting marriages. i sure wouldn’t want to be stuck with a life partner selected by my 15-year-old self.

    • burger flipper

      arranged marriage via prediction market mechanism

      • Roko

        ROFL … Why not just go the whole hog and move to the planet Vulcan?
        That really made me laugh, the idea of arranged marriage at 15 via prediction markets is so quintessentially OB.

      • burger flipper


  • Interesting idea. I agree with curious that I don’t trust my 15-year-old self.

    Imagine a different equilibrium, where females pick a male at 15, then school more slowly to have kids till some standard age (20? 25? 30?), when females return to full-time school and uninterrupted careers.

    Two questions:

    (1) Why would females find this pattern optimal? If it is an equilibrium, that means they have no incentive to deviate. Like curious, people in this world may want to date before they settle down.

    (2) Your story emphasizes the negative effect of waiting to have children. Isn’t there also a negative effect to waiting on the ability to learn, and productivity in the job once employed? A lot of important progress might be disrupted by taking a break from learning/labor force participation from ages 15 to 25. And, similar activities might not have the same return if we did them between ages 25 and 35.

    That said, it’s interesting to imagine a world that isn’t to ask what might have been.

  • Freeze eggs relatively young?

    • This is, by far, the most efficient solution.

      Under the dream world (or should we say nightmare world?), those poor women (mothers) will be paid a pittance, when they eventually make it to the working world, and they will be saddled with huge baby loans (and student loans). Smart girls and their kiddie husbands will realize that a child would ruin their lives. This is an excellent incentive for increased use of contraception.

      One can also dream of the massive changes to virtually every institution in society. Of course, we will have to examine this is much more detail, before we can say whether this might be a better solution than Nancy’s. Or not.

  • nathan

    if you switched to this plan, the women would all be too old to have long careers at the end, and poor health due to their age would make them suspect.

  • Chris

    The problem here is that fluid learning (new skills) gets harder as one ages.

    • Not that I have noticed, at least not at reasonable ages (15 years versus 60 years, well yeah – but not 15 versus 40). Most people don’t learn well anyway. I suspect any studies showing otherwise were testing different populations.

  • Kris Chickey

    What happens in the subsequent generations?

    When the second generation wants to have children at 15, their mothers are only 30. Having only recently entered the workforce full time, their mothers are unlikely to be able to support these wished for grandchildren.

    Furthermore this scenario would seem to put more pressure on the fathers to support their growing families. I doubt you want to see less paternal influence.

    Perhaps in a society with a declining population this may be a more viable strategy. Resource concentration from the declining population may support this population shift. Shorter generation spacing would, by itself, increase population.

    • Edward Gaffney

      Quite. This seems to be an idea in the service of Hanson’s romance with a high-population, subsistence society.

  • This system might need to be a clan structure, with only a few out of a set of siblings (or possibly a generation of cousins) having most of the children, and the other siblings or cousins doing a lot of financial and/or practical support of the children.

  • The clan notion does feel like there’s a shortage of *something*, possibly time available for raising children.

  • Mikhail

    Marriage with 15? Nothing new in the backward societies. Parents choose the bride/groom and couple is likely to have children early and stay all life long together. See e.g. Child bride in Yemen. Such societies have all characteristics described in the original post.

  • nazgulnarsil

    isn’t it a good thing that increased margins of wealth lead to a decrease in birth rates? shouldn’t we prefer futures with smaller populations and higher standards of living?

    • Jess Riedel

      Not if one values more lives worth living. For the same reason one might not prefer the whole world being replaced by one extremely happy individual.

      • nazgulnarsil

        I suppose that I have nothing to complain about as long as increases in quality of living outpace population growth.

  • Anon

    It doesn’t matter.

    In the long term our low-birthrate civilization dwindles and becomes less relevant, while other pre-feminist culture gets the highlight. Unless technology somehow changes the rules.

    • Lotska

      Or immigration? I suppose technology plays a part in that..

      Our optimum level of learning ends at around twenty five, at which time those hypothetical children are only ten. This scenario might be sacrificing the full potential of the careers of one generation to optimise the next- the full potential of which might be sacrificed in turn.

      And if it happened now, the baby boomers and children would both be pushing more pressure onto those in the middle for care, financial or otherwise.

  • John Maxwell IV

    I know it’s possible to preserve sperm by freezing it. Is this also true of eggs? If so, it seems like the obvious solution.

  • I’d be very suspicious about any change leading away from gender equality—progress in society has historically come about along with _increased_ equality and opportunities for women and other groups.

    Also, I suspect that technological ways of solving the problem (such as life extension), while difficult to bring about, will still be more likely to happen than widespread social changes _not_ brought about by technological progress.

  • There were 200 kids, kindergarden to grade 12, in my school in rural Manitoba when I was 15. I’m rather glad I got to wait a while….

  • Violet

    Just freeze embryos/eggs.

    Your “solution” sounds like many historic societies and a little bit like arab countries…

  • Curious, as Mikhall says, societies with early marriage seem to have stable matings. Burger’s suggestion would also make sense.

    Tony, your 15 year old self probably didn’t trust you either.

    Nathan, the mom disruption already happens now – this would just move it from career to school.

    Nancy and John, frozen eggs only solves a small part of the problem, and have large risks of their own.

    Kris, there’d also be great-grand parents etc. alive to help.

    Karl, switching male lifeplans too is consistent with gender equality.

    Eric, I’m not following you.

    • Afaik, societies with early marriage also make divorce very difficult.

    • Edward Gaffney

      Great-grandparents are 45, and great-great-grandparents are 60, but there is a bigger co-ordination problem here, due to lots of ancestors and lots of descendants.

      The only sustainable solution to this problem is to make women unequal “breeders” in a male-dominated society, as happens in the places which are closest to your plan at the moment. You can structure marriage markets and divorce laws to discriminate in favour of men. Don’t they say that our repressed desires make themselves manifest in our dreams?

    • John Maxwell IV

      Eric doesn’t want to have his wife chosen from a pool of ~100 15-year-old rural Manitobans.

  • J. Shaffer

    I must be a total aberration then. . . my father was 52 when I was born; my mother, a few months shy of 42. . . and I ended up with an IQ in the 135-143 range, not autistic, not defective, unless you count having to wear glasses for a bit of amblyopia. . .. . . I still have all my parts (tonsils, appendix, etc.) and rarely get sick. . .

  • curious

    all the same, count me out. i wouldn’t now want a partner i picked at 15, and i wouldn’t at any age accept a partner selected by anyone else.

    as for early marriage elsewhere, a big reason those child brides stay in long marriages to vile old men is that they are in societies where it is difficult (socially, legally, etc) for women to get out of a bad marriage, and/or where they have little prospect for financial support if they succeed in escaping — not exactly conditions i’d want to import.

    in a freer environment, i don’t think you could convince 15-year-olds to marry, and if you did, i think you’d see a lot of them splitting in a hurry.

    i believe eric was suggesting that he didn’t have much in the way of palatable options available at 15. ditto that.

  • This seems like a bit of overkill to me.

    Lets assume for a second that current life choice decisions are optimal if we ignore fertility. That is, estimates of fertility are the only consistent error people are making.

    Then the question is, do we fix life choices or do we fix fertility? My gut reaction is that fixing fertility is likely to be the lower cost option. Even ignoring possible efficiency losses from breaking up secondary and tertiary schooling there is the simple issue that young people are very excited about their possible careers and eager to embark on them.

    The biological clock often doesn’t start ticking until later. We should seek to align biology with those preferences.

  • Red

    I’ve read that the first born usually out performs his/her brother’s and sisters. Is this biological or sociological? If it’s biological that the earlier the child is born in it’s parents life the better it does then that’s a strong argument to move birth back to younger ages.

    • Thanks that is some interesting reading.

  • Ed

    People don’t really want to have kids. Women’s hormones might drive them to try it out, but actually having kids is regrettable work. Men don’t even pretend to care. Note the stats on divorce, abandonment, etc.

  • Tangential – I sometimes think that that earlier marriage might yield more average lifetime utility by allowing more people to have regular sex starting earlier but I guess that is a different subject.

  • Mike

    My physical attractions were so strong at the age of 15 that 37 years later I still remember fondly features of the bodies I fondled, and realize seeing these women grown, that that memory would carry me through a lot. Same with women I was attracted to in college, their 50 year old selves hold for me much of the same affect that their 19 year old selves did back in the day. (My wife and I met, married and had kids in the range 39-42 years or so. There was no doubt a component of “if not now, when?” which drove us.)

    As the world becomes richer and healthier (or at least the part we seem to participate in) intergenerational cooperation within families would seem to be a “natural” response. I have often thought I would enjoy it if my daughters had kids at a relatively young age and stayed in the family home. Most of the downside of early parenthood seems removed by a well-off healthy intergenerational aid. Indeed, where kids are had young by the poor and not-as-healthy, you see this intergenerational thing happening anyway. Why wouldn’t it work where people are healthy and wealthy?