Less rush to moth­er­hood

De­layed child­birth trend can re­shape pop­u­la­tion

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY CHERYL WETZSTEIN

This Mother’s Day, odds are that the new mother push­ing the stroller has a few more years on her than in years past.

A fed­eral sur­vey be­ing re­leased Fri­day finds that the per­cent­age of first-time mothers 35 or older has risen more than five­fold since the early 1970s, a trend to­ward “midlife moms” that de­mog­ra­phers and so­cial sci­en­tists say is hav­ing pro­nounced ef­fects on the size, com­po­si­tion and fu­ture growth of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion.

The num­bers are even more pro­nounced for the sub­set of women hav­ing their first child af­ter 40. In 1970, an av­er­age of 0.4 women out of ev­ery 1,000 women waited un­til their 40s to have a first baby. By 2012, the av­er­age jumped to 2.3 women.

The trend to­ward older moth­er­hood has pros and cons — med­i­cally, po­lit­i­cally and so­cially — an­a­lysts say.

Births to women at older ages, es­pe­cially at 40 and be­yond, are as­so­ci­ated with higher health risks for the in­fants and the mothers, although med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als say treat­ments and out­comes have im­proved in re­cent years.

On the pos­i­tive side, older mothers are likely to have higher ed­u­ca­tions and higher in­comes than their younger coun­ter­parts, as well as more out­side re­sources.

Hollywood is fol­low­ing the trend. First­time mothers older than 40 in­clude ac­tress Halle Berry, model Cheryl Tiegs and singer Mariah Carey.

The con­se­quences

De­layed child­bear­ing has na­tional im­pli­ca­tions be­cause it “changes the pop­u­la­tion struc­ture,” said T.J. Mathews, a co-au­thor of the re­port from the Na­tional Cen­ter for Health Statis­tics.

When women give birth later in life, he said, they are less likely to have mul­ti­ple chil­dren. More­over, the tim­ing of births has a rip­ple ef­fect in the size and age of the na­tional work­force and the el­der pop­u­la­tion.

When paired with a fall­ing teen mother birthrate over the same pe­riod, the sur­vey finds that the av­er­age age for all first-time mothers in the United States has crept up by nearly five years in barely more than two gen­er­a­tions. Women on av­er­age are 25.8 years old when they first give birth, com­pared with 21 in 1970.

The up­ward trend of first births to older mothers has been al­most steady, Mr. Mathews said.

For women in their late 30s, “there was one drop for a few years,” from 2008 to 2010, but the rate started to in­crease again in 2011 and 2012, he said. Rates for women in their early 40s have risen slowly but steadily since 1985.

Put an­other way, in 1970, the fed­eral govern­ment re­ported 14,146 births to women older than 35. In 2012, that num­ber was around 133,000.

The rea­sons for older moth­er­hood are not mys­te­ri­ous: Women pur­su­ing higher ed­u­ca­tion and ca­reers tend to de­lay mar­riage and child­birth.

“Re­mem­ber that we’ve seen post­pone­ment of many mark­ers of adult­hood in re­cent years,” said D’Vera Cohn, se­nior writer at Pew Re­search Cen­ter and co-au­thor of a 2010 re­port, “The New De­mog­ra­phy of Amer­i­can Moth­er­hood.”

“In gen­eral, peo­ple are tak­ing longer to grad­u­ate from col­lege, they’re tak­ing longer to get mar­ried, and they’re tak­ing longer to have chil­dren,” she said.

Some of these fac­tors are in­ter­re­lated: “If you’re try­ing to fin­ish your ed­u­ca­tion, you may not want to get mar­ried and have a child un­til you’re done with that and es­tab­lished in a ca­reer,” Ms. Cohn said, not­ing that other Pew re­ports have shown that older mothers are likely to be col­lege-ed­u­cated.

So­cial ac­cep­tance

It is also so­cially ac­cept­able to be an older mother, the 2010 Pew re­port found.

When some 1,000 adults were asked whether the trend of more women hav­ing ba­bies in their 40s was good or bad for society, 47 per­cent said it made “no dif­fer­ence.” An­other 13 per­cent said it was “good,” and 33 per­cent said it was “bad.”

An­other ma­jor fac­tor in older moth­er­hood is the ar­rival of ar­ti­fi­cial re­pro­duc­tive tech­nol­ogy.

Since 1978 and the birth of Louise Brown, the first “test-tube baby,” women in their 30s, 40s and even 50s have been able to give birth with ar­ti­fi­cial re­pro­duc­tive tech­nol­ogy. To­day, many, if not most, preg­nan­cies af­ter age 40 in­volve such tech­nol­ogy be­cause of a di­min­ish­ing amount of healthy eggs and “poor em­bryo qual­ity,” fer­til­ity re­searchers say.

Still, as ab­so­lute num­bers show, older women are still greatly out­num­bered by their younger sis­ters in ma­ter­nity wards.

In 2012, there were 1.57 mil­lion first births, with more than 1 mil­lion born to women younger than 30, NCHS data say. Nearly 107,000 of these 2012 first­borns were to women ages 35 to 39, and 24,251 were to women ages 40 to 44. More­over, 1,952 first­borns were re­ported for women in their late 40s, and 167 first­borns were de­liv­ered to women ages 50 to 54.

Of 1.61 mil­lion first births al­most 20 years ear­lier, 76,129 were to women ages 35 to 39, 11,806 were to women in their early 40s and 425 were to women ages 45 to 49. Data were not listed for first births for women in their 50s in 1993.

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