New research from Denmark finds that waiting to have babies can be a good strategy for older women as their children have less behavioral, social, and emotional problems.
Nevertheless, the widespread recommendation not to have children too late also has validity. Issues such as declining fertility and health risks during pregnancy and while giving birth are associated with advanced maternal age.
“However, when estimating the consequences of the rising maternal age it’s important to consider both the physical and psychosocial pros and cons,” said Dr. Dion Sommer from Aarhus BSS.
Previous research has indicated that a higher maternal age is associated with increased psychosocial well-being during the pregnancy and the early days after the child is born.
In the new study, published in European Journal of Developmental Psychology, investigators determined that the advantages for the older mothers and their children extend all the way into the children’s school age, but decline before age 15.
Researchers discovered several factors influence 21st Century women to have children later in life. One reason is that we live longer, women have more educational and career opportunities, and contraception has improved.
Today, the average pregnancy age is 30.9 years. This also means that most children today are born when their mother is over 30 years old. Moreover, the proportion of children whose mother was over 40 years old when they were born has quadrupled compared to 1985.
Older mothers are at greater risk of experiencing complications during pregnancy and while giving birth than younger mothers. They are at greater risk of having a miscarriage, giving birth prematurely, and having children with deformities.
On the other hand, studies show that older women thrive better during the first part of motherhood. They worry less during the pregnancy, are more positive about becoming parents, and generally have a more positive attitude towards their children.
Previous studies that have tracked children up until their school age indicate that children with older mothers — regardless of their parents’ background, education, and finances — have a better language and have fewer behavioral, social, and emotional problems.
In the new study, investigators tracked children of school age and found that children with older mothers had fewer behavioral, social, and emotional problems at age seven and 11, but not at age 15.
Researchers believe the reason is that older mothers have more stable relationships, are more educated, and have obtained better access to material resources.
However, investigators wanted to look at the significance of age when these factors are removed from the equation. In such analyses, age can be interpreted as an indicator of psychological maturity.
“We know that people become more mentally flexible with age, are more tolerant of other people, and thrive better emotionally themselves. That’s why psychological maturity may explain why older mothers do not scold and physically discipline their children as much,” Sommer said.
“This style of parenting can thereby contribute to a positive psychosocial environment which affects the children’s upbringing,” he said.
Source: Aarhus University