There is a growing trend of women having babies later in life, with the average age of first time mothers increasing. Some research suggests that leaving motherhood until mid-thirties may increase longevity.
Many women are now having their first child much later in life. Delaying pregnancy until late thirties, early forties is now more socially acceptable and common practice. This shift from having children in the early twenties to later in life reflects a range of socio-cultural and economic changes.
Women tend to have fewer children and factor in career aspirations, relationships, financial security and other important elements before choosing to have baby. Also, with more research into reproductive health and assisted reproductive therapies, women are better informed about the risks of pregnancies later in life and the measures available to mitigate some of these risks.
What the statistics say
Throughout Europe, more and more women over the age of 35 are giving birth. Figures from the Office of National Statistics in the UK show that first time mothers in Wales and England are now older than ever before, with the average age 20. Just under half the babies born in the UK are born to mothers aged over 30, and one in 25 babies is born to a woman over 40.
In 2012, one in five babies was born in Germany to a woman 35 of older according to the Federal Statistical Office. Within France, the figures are similar with 19%. In Spain, it’s one in three babies; while in Ireland 30% of mothers are aged over 35. Similar trends are reported in Bulgaria, Poland and Romania, although the number is lower at 12%.
In the United States, there has been a steady rise since the 1970s in the average age of women having their first birth. Recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal that the greatest shift has been in observed in women aged between 40 and 44. In Australia and New Zealand, the medium age of mothers is 30 and climbing. Similar trends are being observed in South-East Asian, although the average age of motherhood is slightly younger at 28.
Not only is the average age of motherhood increasing in developed countries, the number of children women are having is declining. Large families are no longer as prevalent, with women choosing to only have one or two children.
What are the risks of having babies later in life?
Biologically, it’s much better to start a family before the age of 35. After turning 30, fertility starts to drop and after 35 the decline is more rapidLi, S. et.al. (1996). Perimenopause: the transition into menopause. Health Care for Women International. Volume 17, Issue 4. Thus, the likelihood of falling pregnant and delivering a healthy baby is reduced. The potential for genetic defects, such as Down syndrome rise. Miscarriages are also common. However, this isn’t to say that it isn’t possible to have a happy, healthy baby after the age of 35. Many older mothers are proof of this. Nevertheless, it is important to understand the risks and the steps that can be taken to help reduce the potential for complications.
Can having babies later in life increase longevity?
An interesting study at the Boston University Medical Center published in 2014 found that women who have children later in life tend to live longer. The researchers assessed Long Life Family Study (LLFS) data. The LLFS is an international genetic study of over 500 families with advanced ages. The researchers examined the link between the age of the woman at the time of her last baby and when she died. They found that women who were over 33 years of age when they had their last baby were twice more likely to live to 95 or older, compared with women who had their last baby by 29 years of age ”Fangui, S. et.al. (2014). Extended maternal age at birth of last child and women’s longevity in the Long Life Family Study. Menopause: The Journal of The North American Menopause Society. … Continue reading.
Similar findings have been found in earlier studies based on women living in Wales, England and Austria“Doblhammer, G. (2000). Reproductive history and mortality later in life: A comparative study of England, Wales and Austria. Population Studies: A Journal of Demography. Volume 54, Issue 2, (pp. … Continue reading. The cause and effect of finding from these studies is undetermined. However, there has been a suggestion that women may carry a gene variant that slows the aging process. This may allow woman to reproduce for longer and increase the potential for passing down these genes.
This research certainly doesn’t advocate women waiting until they are in the mid-thirties or later to have babies. Although, the findings are interesting and more studies are necessary. When deciding when to enter motherhood, women should choose the timing that is right for them. In doing this, it’s also important to stay well informed about changes in fertility and potential risks of having children after the age of 35.
|↑1||Li, S. et.al. (1996). Perimenopause: the transition into menopause. Health Care for Women International. Volume 17, Issue 4.|
|↑2||”Fangui, S. et.al. (2014). Extended maternal age at birth of last child and women’s longevity in the Long Life Family Study. Menopause: The Journal of The North American Menopause Society. Published ahead-of-print).”|
|↑3||“Doblhammer, G. (2000). Reproductive history and mortality later in life: A comparative study of England, Wales and Austria. Population Studies: A Journal of Demography. Volume 54, Issue 2, (pp. 169-76).”|