January 11, 2013

Waiting For The Baby Carriage: Delaying The Age of Childbirth

More sex but less babies. Do you plan to have children? When? What does increased maternal and paternal age mean for the health of babies?

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So, if people are delaying marriage (see: Waiting to Tie the Knot), does that mean that they are delaying having sex, too?

Sex before marriage

By their 19th birthday, 7 in 10 teens, both boys and girls, have had intercourse. Over 90% of married men and about 85% of married women report engaging in sexual intercourse before their wedding.  However, it is important to note that most young adult sexual encounters take place within a committed relationship. Over the past few decades, sex before marriage has become increasingly accepted within committed relationships. Since 1970, approval of premarital sex increased 12% to 73% among young women and from 40% to 79% among young men. Likewise, feelings of sexual guilt decreased in men and women.

Decline in birth rate

Thanks to birth control, increased access to condoms, and sexual health education, sex does not necessarily mean babies. In 2009, the birth rates for women in their early twenties fell 7%, the largest percentage decline since 1973. The birth rates for women in their late twenties and thirties also fell in 2009, while the birth rate for women in their early forties increased.  Between 1991 and 2001 in the United States, the percentage of first births for women 35–39 years of age increased by 36% and that for women 40–44 years of age increased by 70%.

Increased maternal age and health effects

Women are postponing the age of having children, with likelihood of increased mother’s age linked to increased education.  In fact, the much talked about delay in childbirth is almost exclusively among women with more education.

But what does this mean for the babies born to parents of increased age?  Results of studies have found mixed results and remain inconclusive.  In a systematic review of the studies dealing with the effect of maternal age on baby health outcomes, Huang et al., found that the risk of stillbirth does increase with advanced maternal age.  However, in industrialized countries the absolute rate among older women is still very low, less that 10 per 100 births.  While an increase in age seems to play a negative biological role, increase social and financial stability of parents have a positive effect on children.

Older women might also have a harder time getting pregnant.  Fertility starts decreasing for women at age 32. What the research agrees is that women of any age planning to have children should seek medical attention and consider all of the risk.

Increased paternal age and health effects

Mothers aren’t the only determinant of child health, though.  Age of the father is being increasingly discussed as also having an effect.  Men over 40 also have increased infertility, their partners have more pregnancy related complications, including miscarriages, and their children have more complications.  Both increased paternal and maternal age have been linked to developmental disorders like autism.

Family planning

The important thing to remember is the value of family planning.  Only you can decide if and when it is right for you to have children.  Like most things in life, there are too many factors involved to do any type of accurate prediction.  The good news is that people today have options and information to allow for the best family planning.  So, when do you want to think about that baby carriage..?


Check out Eric Grollman’s great blog on same sex parents.