Now, more than ever, women are delaying having children until later in life. According to the CDC, the average age a woman has her first child is 26. Why has the average age creeped higher? One reason is that fewer women are having children in their teens. The CDC notes that the rate of teen births has gone down 42% from 2000 to 2014. Another factor is that more women than ever are giving birth to their first child when they are over age 30. Women having their first child between the ages of 30 and 34 rose by 28% and women giving birth over age 35 rose by 23%. In cities the average ages are even older. In Manhattan, for example, the average age a woman has her first child is 32, according to the New York Times.
The reason why women are waiting longer to have children is complex. The pursuit of higher education and career goals is often cited in the media as a factor influencing women to wait until they are older to have their first child. Forbes noted that in a survey of thousands of women, money was a leading reason why women are waiting to have children. According to the Atlantic writer Jean M. Twenge, in an informal survey of successful professional women, 42 percent of women had not had a child by age 40. But this is of course not the only factor. Higher student loan debt, economic insecurity, and the choice to “settle down” later also play a role. Culturally, women have other priorities beyond raising children, such as the pursuit of personal goals, self-development, hobbies, volunteering, and other pursuits. Some women wait until later in life to get married, and others don’t want to get married at all. However, some women, as they approach 40 find themselves reaching a crucial milestone where a decision must finally be made–to have children or not to have children.
We know that a woman’s fertility declines as she ages. The American Society of Reproductive Medicine notes that women’s fertility begins to decline at age 32. It is scientifically understood that a woman’s peak reproductive years are in her 20s. And yet, these peak years also coincide with the optimal age for other pursuits. Women have been told that waiting later to have children can come at the price of fertility difficulties later in life. But recent research indicates that waiting until your late thirties may only decrease your fertility by a few percentage points. Even women who wait until their 40s can see good outcomes. According to the New York Times, more than 100,000 women in their 40s give birth to healthy babies every year. While we know a woman’s fertility declines in her 40s, this area of female fertility has been studied very little, and most of the information we do have comes from I.V.F. statistics which have very little to do with the chances of having a baby naturally.
In order to fully understand what it means to have a child in your 40s, we need to first understand a few things. In this article we will take a closer look at these factors, namely:
- The truth about fertility in your thirties.
- Why fertility declines in a woman’s forties, and what we know (and don’t know) about menopause.
- And finally, risk factors facing women when they get pregnant in their 40s.
Let’s first look at the information we do have for women’s fertility in the late thirties (that is between the ages of 35 and 40), because this research is very important when it comes to understanding fertility in your early 40s.