I am a whole six years older than my mother was when she gave birth to me, her first- born child. In addition, I am single and have no father of a baby in sight. Even though my parents are very proud of my professional accomplishments, I can tell that they are starting to wonder if they are ever going to have grandchildren. I myself have wondered at times how it is that I have made it this far without reaching some of those personal milestones in the same timely manner as my parents. Well it turns out I am not alone. It is a generational phenomenon.
The CDC recently released a report stating that the average age that American women are having their first baby continues to rise.
From 2000 to 2014, the age of first-time mothers increased 1.4 years — from 24.9 years old on average to 26.3 years old. The government began tracking the age of new mothers around 1970 when the average age was 21 years old. It has slowly been increasing since, but it has taken a sharper spike upwards in the last five years.
There are two phenomena that are accounting for the change. One, that there has been a significant drop in teen pregnancies. Teen pregnancy in the past few years has been at an all time low for the country. This can be attributed to education about sex leading to a decrease in sexual activity and also greater access to birth control.
The second phenomenon is that women are simply waiting to have children. This trend started in the 1950’s. Women are staying in school longer, they’re going into the work force, they’re waiting to get married, and they’re waiting to have kids.
The question I pose is, “Is this a problem?”
Waiting too long to have children can come with risks for a woman. Women that conceive at age 35 or older, aka Advanced Maternal Age, are at higher risk for a few things during pregnancy:
- Increased risk of infertility
- Increased risk of miscarriage
- Increased risk of stillborn
- Increased risk of a baby with a chromosomal abnormality i.e. Down’s Syndrome
- Increased risk of pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes and high blood pressure
- Increased risk of cesarean delivery
With that said, older women have also been found to be significantly more likely to breastfeed than younger women and overall, older women are also likely to have greater financial resources and social stability than younger ones.
Besides individual risks, waiting too long to have children could also have larger social repercussions. Because an increasing maternal age leads to infertility and an increased risk of pregnancy loss it inevitably also means fewer babies. It has been reported that it takes 2.1 children per couple to replace the population over time. The United States is currently on the cusp of that number.
So what should we do? Am I going to run out and get knocked up after reading these statistics? Maybe….
Jokes aside, I think the key is awareness. Many women cannot help the timing in which pregnancy and childbirth occur for them, but we shouldn’t be naïve to the consequences of waiting. Try to weigh the risks and benefits of having a baby at different stages of your life. Basically, I recommend that if you are in a position to have a baby, don’t just wait to wait. There is never a perfect time and waiting too long can have increased risks for you, your baby and society.
Man, this is heavy.
Sources: National Center for Health Statistics, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists