Singletons

The world of only children

Forty (or Close) is the New 20 for Having Babies

The number of women having babies after age 40 has quadrupled.

Forty is the new 20 when it comes to having babies creating a distinct trend with a host of positives for women who delay motherhood including living longer than those who give birth at young ages.

When my son was three-years-old, he and my husband went out to buy the weekend newspapers. One Sunday, as they approached the store, a gentleman crouched down to my son's level and said, "It's so nice that you're taking your grandfather out for a walk." Not vain, my husband was unperturbed by the comment and the incident has become a family joke. Yet I, and many older moms I've spoken with, keep ears perked, ready to deflect any "you're the grandmother" comments or insinuations.

Think you're 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's 25, but many women wait much longer to marry and have babies. Reproductive advances give 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 is the new twenty.

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 marriages among older women, almost 85 percent are married when they become mothers, tend to be more stable. 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 (National Institute of Health), 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. 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 flexibility according to a study conducted in Sidney, Australia further underscoring Gregory's results.

John Mirowsky, sociology professor at the Population Center at University of Texas who also works with the National Institute of Health 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.

For more on this, see: 40 is the New 20 for Having Babies-Part II and 50 is the New 40 for Having Babies. You might also be interested in: The Ideal Age to Have a Baby: How important are age and energy in parenting? 

Copyright 2010 by Susan Newman

Susan Newman, Ph.D., is a social psychologist and author. Her latest book is The Case for the Only Child: Your Essential Guide.

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