The gap between first time mothers’ ages has grown drastically in the US over the last 30 years, a new analysis reveals.
Women used to start having babies around the same age, but now they are split into two clusters: those who have children in their late teens or early 20s, and those who wait until they are nearly 30, The New York Times reports.
The trend reflects a wide variety of differences between women in 1980 and women today, and may be a harbinger of disparities their children will face.
Older first-time mothers tend to be more educated and live in urban areas, while women who have their first child before age 25 typically do not have a college degree and live in more rural parts of the country.
This division likely means that their children’s paths and opportunities will diverge even more drastically even earlier in life than the mothers’ trajectories did.
Across much of the developed world, there has been a general trend toward starting families at older ages.
In 1970, the average age for a woman to have her first child was just 21. By 2000, the average had risen to nearly 25.
Female fertility begins to decline more rapidly after age 35, but better maternal medicine and technologies like in vitro fertilization and egg freezing have given older women more hope for motherhood.
Older mothers face more health risks for both themselves and their babies, but better circumstances.
Younger mothers, on the other hand, have the robust health that comes with youth on their side, but they are more likely to be less educated, make lower incomes and have little to no money saved.
The two groups of women divide sharply, and most clearly along the lines of education, according to the research Dr Caitlin Myers of Middelbury College carried out for The New York Times.
‘Thee are two really interesting and related theories to explain this,’ Dr Myers told Daily Mail Online.
‘One is that the age at which a woman becomes a mother determines a lot of other life outcomes,’ for both her and her baby, says Dr Myers.
This is largely to do with the economics concept that there is an inter-generational transfer of poverty.
If a woman is younger, she is less likely to be wealthy, and may only face a steeper climb to greater financial stability. According to this theory, so, then, will her children.
‘The second theory says that birth outcomes themselves are caused by poverty and economic expectations which cause teen birth, perhaps,and then those births contribute to poverty,’ suggests Dr Myers.
Essentially, women living in lower income areas may have lower expectations for their upward mobility, and therefore fewer factors weighing in favor of delaying motherhood.
‘I’m reluctant to say this is a problem, but it is a phenomenon,’ Dr Myers says.
‘Right now, we’re trying to sort out what is a growing emphasis in the literature that suggests that women are making decisions on the age when they want to become mothers and are doing so based on a sort of cost-benefit analysis.’
No matter how much they made or spent on their homes, women with college educations were by and large between 30 and 32 when they had their first children.
A woman’s early 30s are within the healthy age range to conceive, but still well above 27, the current and record high average age a woman has her first child in the US.
These women’s ages and education levels do not just predict their current financial stability, but their future career paths and the stability.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics data that Dr Myers analyzed, younger mothers were far more likely to have had an unplanned first pregnancy and be unmarried.
These women have to put everything on hold, and their children may confront many of the same challenges they have.
Research has shown that children who begin at any sort of disadvantage struggle to overcome it their whole lives through.
What’s more, disparities may exacerbate these problems, in both the social and health senses.
Women who live in poorer, less educated parts of the country are more likely to have children at young ages. People in these areas also have less access to quality health care and education, leaving their children in a more difficult cycle to escape.
As more women have children at older ages, the growing population of children in their areas also creates a demand for resources, which can exaggerate their advantages as well as exacerbate the strain on younger, less educated families.