Decision Analysis of When to Have Child

USA TODAY, February 2008 | Go to article overview

Decision Analysis of When to Have Child


Women seeking to balance career, social life, and family life in making the decision on when to have a child may benefit from applying formal decisionmaking science to this complex emotional choice.

"This decision is too complex to logically consider all the relevant aspects intuitively in one's head," write professor Ralph Keeney and doctoral student Dinah Vernik of Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, Durham, N.C. "Yet, for many, it is too important and consequential to simply go with one's feelings."

The pair have demonstrated that using a formalized approach to this very personal decision may help a woman evaluate her options regarding the optimal time for her to attempt to conceive a first child. Variables are plugged into the model, which then attempts to balance the benefits of motherhood against its effects on career and social interests and the age-related concerns of diminishing fertility or an increased likelihood of conceiving a child with a genetic abnormality.

In their analysis, Keeney and Vernik illustrate their model by considering the situations of a 25-year-old doctoral student who desires an academic career and a 20-year-old college student who plans to pursue a professional career. The doctoral student must assess how motherhood might affect her likelihood of achieving tenure at a university, but the authors note that this situation also applies to professional women in medicine, law, and other fields where there is significant pressure to reach a particular career milestone in a defined period of time.

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If a woman feels that having a child in the early years of her career will limit her focus on work and, thus, significantly reduce her chances of receiving tenure, the model will indicate that the optimal age to begin to have a family is after she achieves that rank. However, in the case of a woman who does not feel that motherhood will be a significant barrier to her pursuit of a particular milestone, the model suggests attempting to conceive a first child at a younger age. …

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