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50 Is the New 40 for Having Babies

Giving birth after 40 increases your odds of reaching 100.

Cover photo by Darrow

When I reported 40 is the New 20 for Having Babies three years ago on this blog, many people expressed their opinions (often negative) and their concerns in terms of health issues. What will you and they say now that older women, over 50, are becoming mothers in significant numbers?

Before you respond, consider some of the facts journalist Lisa Miller reveals in her story showcased on the cover of New York magazine: "Is She Just Too Old for This? New parents over 50-child-rearing's final frontier." Footnote: two women in India had babies in their 70s.

There has been an increase of 375 percent in women over 50 giving birth. In numbers, according to New York, that's 541 of the 8,000 babies born to women over 45 (based on 2008 statistics). Physically having a baby at this advanced age is not easy, however, with the availability of donor eggs or frozen eggs or embryos, hormones to bring a woman out of menopause to allow for pregnancy, and technology to monitor as well as determine a potential mother's health, it is clearly possible.

Many of the reasons Miller offers for the "final frontier" option as she calls it are the same ones people (young and older) have for keeping their families small, increasingly to one child. To explain 50+ women's decision to become mothers, Miller notes:

  • Because most 50+ mothers are using donor eggs or their own young embryos frozen many years earlier, the risk of Down syndrome is low.
  • Studies found that a) the older the mother, the better the IVF (in vitro fertilization) children performed on a battery of intelligence tests and b) mothers in their 50s report less parental stress and the same levels of fatigue as 30- and 40-year-old mothers.
  • Women hold off having babies, especially female executives because of the career costs-there are distinct career path and financial penalties for mothers, particularly early in their careers. Today, many women are the primary breadwinners in their families.
  • Older potential parents are more likely to have the financial resources to cover the steep price tags of fertility treatments, surrogates, and/or adoption (in some cases).
  • New, over 50 moms tend to be more financially secure, allowing for more engagement with their child.
  • No one questions fitness of the almost 3 million grandparents who care for their grandchildren.
  • People are living longer and in better health. A Boston University researcher reports that "women who gave birth to children after the age of 40 were four times more likely to live to 100 than those who did not."

    Before you tick off all the reasons why having a baby after 50 might be a bad idea, consider all those reasons why it might be a good one-starting with how much this child is wanted. And, think too, about the women who tried earlier and had difficulties becoming pregnant before you call older women who have babies selfish. Perhaps you harbor feelings of ageism and the stereotypes that go along with that.

    Is the issue different than judging people who choose to remain childless or decide one child works best for them? Maybe you still believe that giving birth or adopting in your 50s is pushing the envelope too far?


Miller, Lisa. Parents of a Certain Age: Is there anything wrong with being 53 and pregnant? New York Magazine, October 3, 2011, pp. 44-48, 102-103.

Newman, Susan. The Case for the Only Child: Your Essential Guide. Health Communications, 2011.

Copyright 2011 by Susan Newman