Moms are waiting….to become moms. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while births to teens and women in their twenties continued to fall in 2016, births to later moms continued to rise, and the birth rate for women age 30-34 surpassed that for women 25-29 for the first time. The average age at first birth of the American mother is now 26.6.
In 2016, one in ten first babies was born to a mother 35 or older, while in 1970 it was one in one hundred.
Professor Elizabeth Gregory directs the Women's, Gender & Sexuality Studies Program at the University of Houston and is author of “Ready: Why Women Are Embracing the New Later Motherhood.”
“A century ago, Sigmund Freud famously wondered what women want. At least one answer to that question, true for women around the globe, turns out to be time – in which to grow into and establish themselves, over varying numbers of years, before they start their families,” Gregory wrote.
As the shift takes place, women are accruing both education and financial power comparable to their male peers. Researchers are also documenting other gains from delayed motherhood, such as improved test scores among kids, and higher income levels among later moms and their families. Delay has played a role in women’s increased clout in business and society.
“Such a big change has required much reweaving of the social fabric, designed for millennia around the expectation that women would spend most of their lives bearing and rearing children,” said Gregory. “Though delay begins with individual choices around birth timing,” all choices, taken together, “are adding up to radical transformations of family life, the business world and the polity.”
Gregory knows more than a bit about her subject matter. She became a first-time mom at 39 after earning a doctoral degree from Yale University and achieving tenure in academia, and many of her friends followed similar paths. Inspired by their examples, she began to study why so many became new, later mothers. The results were fascinating.
“While there was some complexity, the overwhelming majority of women viewed the choice to have children after 35 as one of the most positive choices they had made in their entire lives,” said Gregory. But some, she said, would feel ready earlier, if good childcare were more affordable.
Cover photo: GettyImages