According to a recent Gallup Poll, “Americans see 25 as ideal age for women to have first child.” The poll results have received a lot of attention in the popular media, so we thought we should chime in as well. As it turns out, we’ve previously summarized the scientific data regarding how mom’s age affects child outcomes in our book. An excerpt from that chapter is below.
From “Is there a good time to have kids?”, by Dr. Jody Davis:
Additionally, there are specific factors that set the stage for the transition to parenthood; these circumstances may or may not be under your control. For example, there is fascinating research on the topic of whether there is an ideal age for a woman to get pregnant. The medical and social risks associated with teen pregnancy are well-documented; it’s easy to rule out the teenage years as an optimal time to have children. Beyond the adolescent years, however, there are a couple of timing possibilities depending on the criteria used to evaluate the options. If the standard is ease of pregnancy and childbirth, then it would be best to have children around age 20, before women experience declines in fertility and increases in pregnancy and birth complications. But, if the standard is the long-term health of infant and mother, then it would be best to delay parenthood for as long as possible. You may find it somewhat surprising that these two things don’t go together (i.e., that the best age for good health post-birth is different than the best age for fertility). An operative issue at play here is the extent to which the woman is in a good place in life to provide the best possible care for her child. But, you can’t entirely leave fertility-related issues out of the equation. Thus, in research using a national sample from the US, it turns out that the optimal age range for childbirth, taking into account both criteria, may be the early to mid thirties.1 Giving birth during this time yields positive outcomes for long-term infant and mother health and mortality risk, likely due to social and economic resources that people are more likely to attain later in life that benefit health. Moreover, there is evidence that older parents provide more skilled parenting, even when controlling for variables such as parents’ education level (an effect that seems to level off after age 30).2 Given that the average age of parents is climbing, this is reassuring news.
1Mirowsky, J. (2005). Age at first birth, health, and mortality. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 46, 32-50.
2Bornstein, M. H., Putnick, D. L., Suwalsky, J. T. D., & Gini, M. (2006). Maternal chronological age, prenatal and perinatal history, social support, and parenting of infants. Child Development, 77, 875-892.
This excerpt was adapted from The Science of Relationships: Answers to Your Questions about Dating, Marriage, & Family, published by Dr. L Industries, LLC.