Couples are waiting longer and longer to start families nowadays. Since 1970, the average age that men and women have their first child has increased 0.8 years every year, and the average age of first birth is now 28 the developed world. There are certainly plenty of reasons to put off having children. Many men and women are choosing to hold off until they're done with school, settled in their careers, or more financially stable. Even more are waiting so they can get the most out of life before having kids, by traveling, living in less child-friendly parts of the city, and just enjoying their adult independence.
We hear a lot about some of the potentially negative consequences of postponing having a child. For women, the risks of pregnancy or childbirth related complications increases as they get older. There is also an increased risk of negative health outcomes for children. But there may also be an upside to waiting to have a baby. A new study suggests that children born to women up to age 40 and older enjoy some pretty unique advantages in life!
Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research and the London School of Economics found that children born to women who are considered to be at an advanced maternal age grow up to be taller, more educated, and performed better on standardized testing than children born to younger mothers. Researchers analyzed 1.5 million Swedish men and women born between 1960 and 1991.
They also looked at siblings (not including twins or multiples) with the same mothers and fathers. They compared their mother's ages with other factors, like physical characteristics, physical fitness, how they performed in high school, and the highest education level they reached.
Across the board, children who were born to the mother later in life performed better later in life, compared to their siblings who were born earlier. Study author Kieron Barclay says, "By comparing siblings who grew up in the same family it was possible for us to pinpoint the importance of maternal age at the time of birth independent of the influence of other factors that might bias the results."
Even more surprising: researchers say that the benefits of having kids later in life actually outweigh the risks involved. For so long, we've focused on the negative aspects of having kids at an advanced maternal age. But according to lead researcher Mikko Myrskylä, the overall benefits are worth the individual risk factors. Myrskylä says that most men and women are well aware of the risks of having kids later in life, but are likely not aware of the all the positive outcomes that come along with it.
Researchers still aren't clear on the reason behind their findings, but surmise that improved health and social conditions over time may be a contributing factor.