Are you the child of an older mother? What are the effects on children whose mothers have them “later?”
The number of births to women in their 30s and well into their 40s keeps rising; at the same time, the number of women between ages 20 and 24 who are having their first child falls. Surprisingly, the number of women having babies in their mid-forties or older, although still relatively small, has tripled in the last 20 years.
The pushback and concern about women having babies when they are older have been well documented. In spite of risks, having babies “later” is increasingly popular, signaling a trend that is more than likely to continue. Robin Gorman Newman (no relation), the founder of MotherhoodLater.com, a community, and resource for “later” moms tells me that her organization has been growing steadily since she started it in 2005. “I receive ongoing inquiries from women anticipating they may become a mom at age 35 and older seeking information and support,” she says.
Medical advances — in-vitro fertilization, egg freezing, frozen embryos, donor eggs, and surrogates — have allowed women to consider waiting to have children until they feel ready. With technology to monitor and protect both mother and fetus, many risks have been reduced. These advances also provide a “security blanket,” a cushion of sorts, for women who wait to become mothers.
CBS Sunday Morning spotlighted first-time mothers who started their families in their 40s. Some conceived naturally, others used fertility assistance. “Is 40 the new 30 for having babies?” CBS asked. These women underscore the realities of getting established and being able to have their babies when the time is right for them.
There are many benefits for mothers — and fathers — who wait until they are older. I outlined one of them for women whether single or partnered in more detail in “Want to Make More Money? Have Babies After 30.” But what are the benefits for the children of “older” mothers?
Benefits for Children of “Older Mothers”
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Studies in recent years counter some negative stereotypes of “older” mothers and highlight the benefits for their children.
1. Children are likely to have positive long-term outcomes.
Using data from Sweden, the study “Advanced Maternal Age and Offspring Outcomes: Reproductive Aging and Counterbalancing Period Trends” looked at how secular improvements — advancements in public health, for example — may “outweigh the disadvantages that have been shown to be associated with being born to an older mother.” They found that fertility postponement — due to such factors as more career opportunities for women and birth control — even to age 40 and beyond, “is associated with positive long-term outcomes for children.”
When the researchers analyzed data from siblings who essentially had a similar home environment, they noted that the sibling born when the mother was older was taller, stayed in the educational system longer, was more likely to attend university, and performed better on standardized tests than the siblings born when their mother was younger.
Barclay and Myrskylä wrote, “We found no substantively or statistically significant disadvantage for outcomes in adulthood for those born to older mothers, not even for those born to mothers aged 45 or older… These results are also likely to apply to other countries where health is improving and education is expanding.” Their findings were supported and augmented in several studies.
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2. Children acquire more advanced language skills.
When Jessica Harding and her colleagues investigated “The Relationship Between Maternal Education and Children’s Academic Outcomes,” they found that because older mothers have probably stayed in school longer, they have and use more extensive vocabularies when interacting with their children, starting at very young ages. The study makes clear that enriched language skills are “a crucial component of children’s cognitive skills,” which is evident in how they perform in school. In short, “Children exposed to more enriched language environments demonstrate more advanced language abilities.”