Less rush to motherhood: Delayed childbirth trend can reshape population

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“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.

“Anecdotally, if you are in that [older] age category and you had a first birth, and you know somebody else” who had also had a first birth at that age, “then maybe you might think, ‘Oh, everybody’s doing this.’ But the numbers are still pretty small,” Mr. Mathews said.

Among other highlights of the NCHS report, “First Births to Older Women Continue to Rise”:

• Asian-American women are consistently the most likely to delay their first childbirth. American Indian women are least likely to give birth for the first time after age 35.

• The District of Columbia has the highest rates of firstborn births to older mothers. Its 2012 rates are 29.9 births per 1,000 women ages 35 to 39 and 8.9 births per 1,000 women ages 40 to 44. (In 2012, the national average for the respective age groups were 11 births and 2.3 births per 1,000.)

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