American Women Are Waiting to Begin Families
Average Age at First Birth up More Than 3 Years From 1970 to 2000
For Release: Wednesday, December 11, 2002
Contact: NCHS Press Office, (301) 458-4800
Mean Age of Mother, 1970-2000. NVSR Vol. 51, No. 1. 14 pp. (PHS) 2003-1120. pdf icon[PDF – 629 KB]
In 2000 the average American woman having her first baby was almost 25 years old. In 1970 the average age was 21.4 years for a first birth, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released today. The report also showed that the average (or mean) age of mothers for all births rose from 24.6 years to 27.2 over the past three decades.
Over one-half of all births still occur to women in their twenties–the peak childbearing years–but the average age in this group has shifted steadily upward since 1970. The increase in the average age of women having a baby also reflects the relatively recent downturn in the teen birth rate and the rising birth rates for women in their thirties and forties. The report is based on birth certificates filed in State vital statistics offices and reported to CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.
The trend in delayed childbirth is universal–observed nationwide and among all groups in the population. Yet, the actual age at first or subsequent births varies greatly by State and by race and Hispanic origin. In 2000 the average age of women at first birth ranged from a high of 27.8 years in Massachusetts to a low of 22.5 in Mississippi.
The difference between the State with the highest and lowest average age has increased over the past 30 years. In 1970 Arkansas had the lowest average age for first birth at 20.2 years and the highest age was reported by Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York (22.5 years).
Differences were even more pronounced when patterns were examined by race and Hispanic origin from 1989 (the first year detailed data are available) to 2000. American Indian women had the lowest average age at first birth (21.6 years) in 2000, up only slightly from their 21.3 average in 1989. In 2000 Japanese and Chinese women had the highest average age at first birth, more than 30 years; in 1989 women in these two groups were older than other women at first birth, with an average age of about 29. The average age for non-Hispanic white women for a first birth in 2000 was 25.9 years; the average for non-Hispanic black women was 22.3 years; and the average ranged considerably for Hispanic women, from about 22 years of age for Puerto Rican and Mexican women to 27 years of age for Cuban mothers.
Comparing international patterns, the report points to an increase in the average age at first birth in most of the developed countries; averages in 2000 ranged from 24 in the Slovak Republic to 29 in Switzerland.
Several factors may account for the delay in childbearing, most importantly educational opportunities and career choices for women. From 1970 to 2000 the number of women completing college has nearly doubled and the number in the labor force has gone up by almost 40 percent. Changes in contraception use, economic cycles, social support, and marriage patterns should also be considered. .
“Mean Age of Mother, 1970 to 2000” can be viewed or downloaded without charge at the CDC/NCHS Web site.