Think you are too old to have a baby…you’re probably not. Just ask first time moms Halle Berry who gave birth at 41, Jennifer Lopez who had twins at 38, or one of your friends. In 2006 one in every twelve first babies was born to a woman over 35. When you look at women having babies regardless of whether or not it’s their first child, one in seven babies were delivered by women 35 or older.
Women are in no rush to marry or have children. In the mid to late 1950’s, the median marriage age for women was 19. Today it is 26, but many women wait much longer. Reproductive advances give most women a security blanket on waiting. The surge in births to older women tells us that they are exercising that option. The National Center for Health Statistics states that in the 24 years between 1980 and 2004, the number of women giving birth at age 30 has doubled, at age 35, tripled and after age 40 has almost quadrupled. Forty (or close) is the new 20, creating a distinct trend with a host of positives for women who delay motherhood and that includes living longer than those who give birth at young ages.
Waiting with good results
In her book, Ready: Why Women Are Embracing the New Later Motherhood, Elizabeth Gregory, director of the Women’s Studies Program at the University of Houston discovered that older mothers are usually more emotionally ready to cope with parenting. Gregory says that “many older mothers have met their career and personal goals so they can and want to focus on family.” Life experience is a boon in terms of translating work experience into running a household. She also notes that almost 85 percent of older women are married when they become mothers and their marriages tend to be more stable. And, older, single first-time moms have built a stable support network by the time they have a child.
Although older mothers may face infertility issues, may have more difficult pregnancies, and are more likely to have Cesareans, on an overall, the positives outweigh the possible problems for the women over 35 who are fueling the trend to motherhood later- among them, a group called Motherhood Later rather than Sooner, a resource for midlife mothers. According to a study conducted in Sidney, Australia, women over 38 using assisted reproductive methods adjusted in almost the same ways to pregnancy as those who were younger, and older mothers scored higher on things like ability to handle challenges and be flexible, further underscoring Gregory’s results.
John Mirowsky, sociology professor at the Population Center at University of Texas, says the ideal age to give birth is between 34 and 40. On the plus side he reports that those mothers experience better health, have healthier babies, and are less likely to turn to risky behavior. Much of this excellent news relates to the fact that older mothers tend to have more education and to be more financially as well as emotionally secure.
The Argument: You won’t be around…
Oh, yes, you probably will. When people say: “It isn’t fair to have a child at your age.” “You may not live to see your son or daughter married.” Or, “you won’t be around to know your grandchildren.” You can reply, “I’ll be here.” Professor Mirowsky found that health problems drop steadily the longer that first birth was delayed, up to about age 34, then rise increasingly steeply, particularly after about age 40. However, The New England Centenarian Study conducted by Boston University Medical Center found that women who give birth after 40 were four times more likely to live to 100 or longer than were women who gave birth at younger ages.
Feeling like delaying motherhood? Go right ahead, but be prepared to be challenged.
Social psychologist and parenting expert, Susan Newman, specializes in issues impacting family life. She blogs for Psychology Today Magazine and is the author of 15 books including The Book of NO: 250 Ways to Say It–and Mean It and Stop People-Pleasing Forever; Under One Roof Again: All Grown Up and (Re)learning to Live Together Happily; the now classic, Little Things Long Remembered: Making Your Children Feel Special Every Day; Parenting an Only Child, The Joys and Challenges of Raising Your One and Only and The Case for the Only Child. For more details, go to www.susannewmanphd.com or follow Susan Newman on Twitter.