Most Americans think the best time for a woman to have her first child is at age 25 or younger, whereas most think first-time dads should be 26 or older, according to a new Gallup poll.
Only 3 percent of Americans said they believe women should wait until they are older than 30 to have their first child. Most people surveyed preferred men to be slightly older than women when their first child is born.
But the ideal age for each gender is still fairly close: 25 for women versus 27 for men.
The timing of life milestones such as marriage and parenthood has shifted over the years. The median age of first marriage for women is now 27, up from just 20 years old in 1960. The change has come along with an increase in the number of unwed couples having children together, with 46 percent of women's first births now occurring outside of marriage.
There are biological reasons to have children earlier rather than later. Women are most fertile in their late teens and early 20s, and older dads confer increased risks for schizophrenia, autism and other mental health disorders onto their children, according to a 2011 study in the journal Translational Psychiatry. And even older first-time parents are saying it would have been ideal to have had children in their 30s.
But the ideal of younger parenthood can clash with societal pressure to prioritize education and career advancement. Research suggests that women now prioritize their careers more than in generations past.
In the new poll, people's education seemed to affect what they said was the ideal age for parenthood, with more educated people being much more likely to say an older age for parenthood was ideal.
Women were also slightly more likely than men to say first-time moms should be older than 30, and to prefer an older age for first-time fathers. [5 Myths About Fertility Treatments]
Blacks and Hispanics were more likely to say the ideal age for parenthood — for both men and women — is 25 years old or younger. By contrast, the majority of whites said first-time dads should be older than 25.
The group most likely to say women should delay childbearing was people in their 30s and 40s, with less than half saying women should ideally have children before age 25.
Related on LiveScience and MNN: