In this short film, Janet discusses her experience with pursuing pregnancy and giving birth in her 40s when the term given for women such as Janet in the medical field is – “advanced maternal age”. Studies show that more and more women (especially those who pursue college education) are waiting longer to start families. Watch Janet’s film to discover how it worked for her.
“Advanced Maternal Age”
In the medical field, age 35 and older is generally considered “advance maternal age”. This classification is in part due to increased risks for complications for the woman as well as the pregnancy and fetus observed in women 35 years and older. While women in the past have had children into their late twenties and thirties, the first birth was usually in the early twenties. However, over the past thirty years or so, women in the U.S. have been delaying first childbirth from their early twenties into their late twenties, thirties, and forties. Many changes in society have played a role in the rising maternal age, including later marriages, increased use of contraception, women’s rising educational and career access, single motherhood by choice, and longer life expectancy.
In 1970, the average age of a woman at first childbirth in the United States was about 21 years old. By 2006, the age increased to 25.[i] Due to the high rate of teen pregnancy in the U.S. the average age at first childbirth in the U.S. is much lower than most other developed nations. In order to get a clearer sense of the shift in age at first childbirth, we can look at the change in the percentage of births to women 35 and over: in 1970, just 1 percent of all births were to women age 35 and over; by 2006, the rate was 1 in 12 births.[ii] Nowadays, one in five women have their first child after age 35.[iii] On average in the U.S., the age at first childbirth increased by 3.6 years, with variation across the states from 2 to 5.5 years. In Kentucky, age at first childbirth between 1970 and 2006 increased by 3.1 years, from 20.7 to 23.8 years old[iv].
Births to unmarried women in their late twenties and thirties have also risen steadily over the past few decades, and a higher proportion of unmarried women now become mothers than ever before.[v]
Educational level plays a role in delayed childbirth, and statistics indicate that women with higher educational attainment are more likely to delay childbirth.[vi] Delayed childbirth has occurred primarily with women with at least a high school education. Women with higher education also experience more economic stability and are able to provide better educational and socio-economic opportunities for their children.
While if and when to have children is generally regarded as a personal decision, lots of societal factors play a strong role in how this is decided. Additionally, many women do not have control over their own sexual and reproductive health (see section on Intimate Partner Violence and Reproductive Coercion). As society changes, so do the options that women have access to and pressures that women feel change in regards to this important and life-altering decision. As with any other decision, being able to make a decision as to if, when, and how many children to have is better made with an understanding of what each decision could mean in the short- and long-term and the confidence and safety to make the decision without coercion or fear.
- 1 in 5 women in the U.S. has their first child after age 35[vii]
- The average women’s age for first birth in Kentucky is 23.8 (as of 2006, the latest data available)[viii]
- Reasons for delaying childbirth include educational and career pursuits, economic stability, later marriage, inability to take time off work, increased availability of contraceptives, and longer life expectancy
- Women with higher educational levels tend to delay childbirth and have fewer children
- What is the average age that most women you know have their first child?
- Have you seen a change in age at first childbirth between the generations in your community? Why do you think that is?
- What are some reasons for having children earlier in life?
- What are some reasons that would make you decide to postpone childbirth until late twenties, thirties, or forties?
- What are concerns you would have about having children at an early age and concerns about having children at a later age?
- What are men’s attitudes about earlier childbearing? About later childbearing?
- What information would you like to have to better prepare you to make a decision about when to have children?
Resources and Links:
[i] Amanda Gardner, U.S. Women Delaying Motherhood, Report Shows, U.S. News, available at http://www.usnews.com/mobile/articles_mobile/us-women-delaying-motherhood-report-shows/index.html
[ii] Amanda Gardner, U.S. Women Delaying Motherhood, Report Shows, U.S. News, available at http://www.usnews.com/mobile/articles_mobile/us-women-delaying-motherhood-report-shows/index.html
[iii] March of Dimes, Pregnancy After 35, available online at http://www.marchofdimes.com/trying_after35.html
[iv] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Delayed Childbearing: More Women are Having Their First Child Later in Life, NCHS Data Brief, N 21, August 2009. Available online at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db21.pdf
[v] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Vital Statistics Reports, Vol 57, N 7, January 2009, available online at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr57/nvsr57_07.pdf
[vi] Heck, et al, Delayed childbearing by education level in the United States, 1969-1994, Maternal and Child Health Journal, June 1997.
[vii] March of Dimes, Pregnancy After 35, available online at http://www.marchofdimes.com/trying_after35.html
[viii] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Delayed Childbearing: More Women are Having Their First Child Later in Life, NCHS Data Brief, N 21, August 2009. Available online at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db21.pdf