The over 40 baby boom

By Paula Bowden

The over 40 Baby Boom

The geriatric mother. It’s a title that most women would take offence to, but it’s one that’s being applied to more and more Irish mothers as we see an increase in the number of Irish women having babies in their 40s. A baby boom of a very different kind.

The latest vital statistics report from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) captures the changing age profile of Irish mothers as we see a decline of 52.8% in the number of women under 20 having babies between 2006 and 2016 and an increase of 5.1% in the average age of mothers in Ireland for the same time period. The average age of first time mothers in Ireland now stands at 32.7 years-old.

But perhaps most shocking of all, is a doubling in the number of women over 40 having children. In 2006, 2,824 babies were born to mothers over the age of 40, and in 2016, this number rose to 4,379. That’s an increase of 55.1% over a single decade. Traditionally, older mothers were far from ‘the norm’ in Ireland, but the latest information from the CSO suggests a change in attitude towards child bearing among Irish women.

Credit: Paula Bowden

In 1993, there was an important shift in the age structure of fertility. Prior to this, the age-specific fertility rate was highest among women aged 25-29 (the age-specific fertility rate refers to the number of births per woman within a certain age range). In 1993, for the first time, the highest fertility rate was among women aged 30-34 and in 2016, the highest fertility rate remains in this age bracket. So what has happened to cause such a shift in this particular demographic?

“The introduction of reliable oral contraceptives in the early 1960s transformed fertility behaviour among women”

Dr Siobhan MacDermott, Lecturer in the School of Nursing & Human Science at Dublin City University (DCU), spoke to Thecity.ie.

“A woman’s age at childbirth has risen gradually since the early 1960s,” said Dr MacDermott. “In Ireland, we see that the average age of mothers has risen to 32.7 years, that’s an increase of 5.1 years from 2006, but a similar trend of late fertility can be seen across most of the developed world.

“The introduction of reliable oral contraceptives in the early 1960s transformed fertility behaviour among women in many modern societies. It facilitated women remaining in education longer and pursuing longer term careers.

“Many studies have linked women’s increased education, such as University degrees, to a significant shift in later ages of childbearing. And a lot of this is attributed to the difficult balance between student and maternal roles.

“Those with higher education are generally pursuing careers with greater authority so they may postpone having kids until they are more established on their career path,” said Dr MacDermott.

“Much of the evidence suggests that a woman’s fertility begins to decline significantly at 32 years”

“Lifestyles have also changed significantly over the past decade in the developed world and women are enjoying their freedom and independence and so naturally, we’re seeing a postponing of having children.”

Credit: Pa

“Much of the evidence suggests that a woman’s fertility begins to decline significantly at 32 years and further declines at 37 years. Ireland has a higher than average proportion of women in their 40s giving birth for the first time (3.4% versus the EU average of 2.8%) and with this, comes an increased risk of pregnancy and childbirth complications.

“Issues such as age related increase in infertility, longer than expected waiting times to get pregnant. Interestingly, age and male fertility is an under researched area. However, studies do show an increase in the rate of miscarriages and more incidences of new-born disorders related to older fathers.”

“You can’t get away from the fact that age and maturity tends to bring about an emotional stability and a psychological strength”

The general recommendation for women is that having children earlier helps to avoid health complications and makes for an easier pregnancy. But are there psychological benefits to having an older parent?

“Several studies in recent years have examined the impact of late parenting on child behavior and some studies have reported that children of older mothers tend to have fewer behavioral, social and emotional difficulties,” said Dr MacDermott.

“This kind of follows the premise that issues such as quality of home environment, social support, and readiness for pregnancy and parenthood may contribute to better behavioural outcomes for children. Older mothers are also considered less likely to adopt punitive measures with their children and so their children may have fewer behavioural, social or emotional difficulties.”

“You can’t get away from the fact that age and maturity tends to bring about an emotional stability and a psychological strength, not to mention financial security,” said Dr MacDermott.

“Overall, while studies show that late parenthood and parenting style of older parents appears to contribute to better behavioural outcomes for children, there is undeniable increased risk for infertility and obstetric complications.”

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