With celebrities like Halle Berry, Celine Dion and Janet Jackson dominating the headlines for having babies over the age of 40, Dr Christopher Barnes, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, discusses the impact of having a baby later in life.
There are many reasons people have a baby later in life, which are often very personal – career, problems in conceiving or having not felt ready before. The average age that parents are having children is slowly increasing with the number of births in England and Wales for mothers 35 and over having now overtaken the number of mothers under 25. In fact, over half of all mothers (53%) and almost three quarters of fathers (68%) are aged 30 and over.
Having children in young adulthood
Biologically speaking, it is better to have children in young adulthood. As we age, fertility decreases, and there is a greater risk of miscarriage and of complications during pregnancy and delivery. There are also increased chances of having a child born with a birth defect, prematurely or of low birthweight and these all present unique challenges and risks for parents and their children. However, this is likely to affect a relatively small proportion of people and, despite some negative stigma surrounding the issue, having a baby later in life will generally run smoothly for most.
Obviously, there will be many other types of contributory factors and circumstances that shape parents’ wellbeing; their ways of thinking, attitudes and the outcomes for their children that will not just be down to them being an ‘older’ parent. For example, the Millennium Cohort Study has followed the lives of 19,000 children born in the UK between September 2000 until January 2002 in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Some of the findings suggest that parental education and family income are two of the most powerful predictors of cognitive test performance in children aged 11.
Benefits of having children later in life
There are also some benefits to parents and children when born later in life. For example, some studies have shown that children of older parents are more likely to remain in education longer, attend university, and perform better on standardised tests than siblings who were born when their mothers were younger. Also, there is evidence to suggest that life satisfaction and happiness are higher for older parents which may be attributed to them being in a better economic situation.
A new study conducted by researchers in Denmark suggests children born to older mothers experience fewer behavioural, social and emotional difficulties. The psychological maturity of older mothers can have a beneficial effect on children’s wellbeing until their mid-teens, according to the research.
Clearly, there are some risks from having a child later in life but in many circumstances there will be positive outcomes too. The evidence seems to suggest that parental age may not necessarily be the most influential thing impacting upon child development or the lives of parents. Therefore, it is important to consider many other factors beyond parental age, such as the environmental, cultural or economic situation of the family, as these may ultimately have a bigger impact.