In this paper we present a new ‘home economics’ model of the timing of the first birth. The child-timing decision is treated as a multi-period planning problem in which the date of first birth influences both the mean and the dispersion of the household’s intertemporal income distribution. Couples are assumed to use capital markets and the timing of childbirth to smooth life-cycle consumption. Optimal timing is shown to depend upon the rate at which job skills depreciate during unemployment, the wife’s pre-marital work experience, the opportunity costs of completing a family, and the mean and dispersion of the husband’s intertemporal earnings profile. The theory is tested with statistics drawn from the National Longitudinal Surveys. The results strongly support those theoretical hypotheses that can be tested and offer insights into timing patterns. If the upsurge in women’s labour force participation and educational involvement continue, our work implies that there will be a marked economic incentive to delay childbearing.
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