It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that women are waiting longer on average to have babies these days. The number has been on the rise for some time now—from 2000 to 2014, the average age of first-time mothers rose from 24.9 to 26.3 years—and that number is just continuing to increase, according to a recent study.
A dramatic rise
Despite the upward trend we've been seeing for some time now, the increase has recently become more dramatic. "While age at first birth has been inching up for some time, we have seen sharper increases since 2009," study lead author T.J. Mathews, a demographer at the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), said in a release for the study.
While all states saw an increase in the average age of first-time moms, some states saw more extreme changes. The average age rose by 3.4 years in Washington, D.C.and by 2.1 years in Oregon.
There are distinct factors at work in driving these numbers up: For one thing, we're seeing far fewer teen moms. "The largest impact has been the decline in first births to women under 20," Mathews said. "There has also been an impact of older women having births."
The real reasons
There's one societal force that is likely affecting these numbers: Women seem to be putting off motherhood for economic reasons and increased interest in higher education. This could explain both the reduction in teen birth rates and the increase in women waiting until their 30s to have children. But while the reasons for delaying motherhood are positive, the ramifications of these statistics could affect both maternal and child health—and population growth could be affected as well.
"The average is going up for mothers, which is likely to delay childbearing, and if you delay you are more likely to have fewer births, and that has ramifications for our overall population," Mathews said in the study's release. "You need 2.1 births per couple to replace the population over the long term. The U.S. is right on the cusp of replacement."
Varying by demographic
The average age for first-time mothers has risen overall, but exact patterns vary by demographic. According to Matthews, Hispanics have a higher fertility rate (2.1 percent) than whites, who have a fertility rate of 1.7 percent. This could mean a shift in the population mix.
Asian and Pacific Islanders had the oldest average age for first births (29.5 was the average age) followed by white women (27), women of Cuban descent (also 27), Central and South Americans (26.5), blacks (24.2.), Puerto Ricans (24.1) and Mexican-Americans (23.7.) Native Americans had the youngest average age (23.1 was their average.)
According to the report, rates of first-time teen births fell 42 percent while first-time births for women aged 30 to 34 rose 28 percent and first births among women 35 and over rose by 23 percent.
It seems as though these trends have both positive and negative implications. "For the most part, teen pregnancies are unplanned," Jennifer Wu, M.D., an OBGYN at Lenox Hill Hospital said in the study's release. "Teen pregnancies can have poor outcomes, and most teenagers aren't ready to have a baby."
On the flip side, complications can arise when women have babies at older ages. "As they delay pregnancy, women are incurring other risks," Dr. Wu said.
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