Delaying Motherhood: It’s a Thing

Delaying motherhood

U.S. moms are getting older.

Of course we’re all getting older, you might be thinking. But I’m referring to the age at which women deliver their babies.

The average age at which U.S. women delivered a baby, whether it’s their first or their fifth, rose between 2000 and 2014, with the greatest jump occurring between 2009 and 2014, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The biggest increase was the average age at first birth, which rose from 24.9 years in 2000 to 26.3 years in 2014. Over that time period, every state and the District of Columbia saw an increase in the average age of mothers who delivered their first baby.

As an older mother who delivered both of my daughters in a Washington, D.C., hospital, I especially appreciate the fact that the average age at first birth increased most of all in the District of Columbia, where it rose 3.4 years between 2000 and 2014.

The oldest first-time mothers in 2014 were Asian or Pacific Islander women, whose average age was 29.5 years, while American Indian or Alaska Native women were the youngest, with an average age of 23.1 years.

So what’s bumping the average age up? The good news is that the biggest contributing factor has been a decline in the proportion of births to teen mothers.  In 2000, about 1 in 4 first births were to mothers under age 20; in 2014, the proportion had dropped to 1 in 7 births.

On the other end of the spectrum has been an increase in the proportion of first births to women 30 and older. From 2000 to 2014, the proportion of first births to women 30 to 34 years old rose from 16.5% to 21.1%, and the proportion of first births to those 35 and older rose from 7.4% to 9.1%.

Not surprisingly, as women wait longer to become mothers, the length of time between pregnancies shortens. The difference in the average age at first and second birth declined from 2.8 years in 2000 to 2.4 in 2014, the CDC researchers found.

Why does anyone care about the age of women when they deliver their first baby? Well, if women are waiting longer to become mothers, chances are they’ll have fewer kids during their lifetime, which would affect the composition and growth of the population, the authors of the new report write. Plus, the age at which a woman conceives is linked to her chance of delivering twins or higher-order multiples and her baby’s risk of birth defects.

There might be some advantages to delaying motherhood. A new study using data from Danish women (even U.S. researchers turn to Scandinavian countries because they maintain databases containing a wide variety of health information about their residents) found that waiting to become a mother until at least age 31 was associated with higher lifetime income for working women.

Share your thoughts on this matter in the comments section below!

You may also want to read the following related posts in Pregistry’s blog: The Need For Birth Control Doesn’t Necessarily End On Your 45th BirthdayAdvanced Maternal Age: How Risky Is Risky?, and Becoming a Mother After 50.

Rita Rubin
An ob-gyn's daughter and the mother of two teenage daughters, Rita Rubin has covered medicine ever since earning a BSJ from Northwestern. Based in Washington, D.C., Rita has written for WebMD, JAMA, POZ, and NBCNews.com and previously worked for USA TODAY. She has won numerous awards for her stories and authored What If I Have a C-Section? Rita earned an MA in writing from Johns Hopkins and spent a year as a fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health. You can follow her on Twitter @RitaRubin.

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