For the first time ever, American women in their thirties are having more babies than younger women, according to new preliminary data from the CDC. This reflects two long-term trends that are good for women: The teen pregnancy rate has dropped, and women are waiting until they’re ready to balance career and other responsibilities with motherhood.
Women in their thirties have women in their twenties barely edged out for the lead in birth rates: Women ages 30-34 have about 103 babies for the first time per 100,000, while women ages 25-29 have 102 per 100,000. But being ahead is being ahead!
The first big driving force behind the new thirties takeover is the decline in teen pregnancy. Bill Albert, the chief program officer with the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, tells the AP that positive peer pressure is largely driving the drop in teen pregnancies. With a decrease in teen pregnancy comes a decrease in teens being exposed to other teens who are pregnant, creating a positive peer pressure that continues the trend of fewer teens becoming pregnant.
In addition, women who in earlier decades may have had babies in their twenties are now likelier to wait longer. Women have been waiting longer to get married in recent years, and the number of women in the workforce has increased dramatically in the last several decades, leading women to wait longer before having their first baby.
For new moms, starting a family in their thirties has varied consequences. Researchers at the University of Washington in St. Louis published a study in 2016 which found that if working women want to minimize financial losses from having a baby, the best time to start having kids is about 30.
Study co-author and professor of economics at Washington University Raul Santaeulalia-Llopis said in a press release, “Children do not kill careers, but the earlier children arrive the more their mother’s income suffers. There is a clear incentive for delaying” the birth of a first child.
A potential downside that comes with waiting until your thirties to start having babies is that moms who want more than one child need to have their children close together. Statistician for the National Center for Health Statistics and co-author of a 2016 study about age and birth rates Brady E. Hamilton told the New York Times last year that “as you delay the birth of the first child, the possibility of having three or more children becomes problematic.”
Because fertility decreases slowly as women exit their early twenties, then more rapidly after 32 and even more sharply after 37, having more than three children can be difficult simply because it’s harder to get pregnant in the late thirties and early forties. However, many women can and do have healthy pregnancies and babies into their forties — it’s just potentially harder to get pregnant and comes with a higher probability of some health risks.
Decreased chances of having more babies could potentially have large-scale implications as well. According to Hamilton, “The longer you postpone, the more potential you have for smaller families and smaller population growth.”
So what do real women who waited to have babies think about their decision?
36-year-old Marissa tells Brit + Co that she waited until she was 33 to have her first and only baby. Speaking to Hamilton’s point about the difficulties of women wanting to have several children in their thirties, Marissa says she knew she just wanted one child, which meant there was no pressure to rush so she could have more. Being through with school and in a stable job by the time she was pregnant made the decision to wait an easy one.
The one downside, she says, is that her dad died recently and she’s sad that her daughter won’t get to have a relationship with her grandpa. But, she notes, people’s parents can die at any age.
Megan, who is also 46, waited until she was 34 to have her first baby, and says that because she was able to enjoy her twenties doing whatever she wanted and needed to do on her own, she has “no regrets about shouldering the responsibilities of motherhood now.” She says she misses being able to go to the bathroom by herself, but that’s something moms at any age have to contend with!
Overall, it seems that the decision to wait until after a woman is out of her twenties to have babies is the right one for many women. Any mom would agree there’s no “easy” time to have a kid, but the data and personal stories show there are certainly better times than others for the majority of new families.
Are you planning to wait until your thirties to have your first baby? Tell us about your decision on Twitter @BritandCo.
(Photos via Getty)