Statcast Number 13 Transcript

T.J. Mathews talks about “Delayed Childbearing: More Women are Having Children Later in Life”

Announcer: TJ Mathews, is a demographer in with the National Center for Health Statistics. TJ is the lead author of a new report tracking the trend of more women having their first child later in life. TJ, how much older are first-time mothers than in years past?

T.J.: Our analysis has shown that mother’s age at first time birth has increased 3.6 years from 1970 to 2006. One interesting component of our analysis is showing that in 2006 about one out of 12 first births were to women 35 years of age and older and in 1970 this ratio was 1 out of 100. It’s changed dramatically in that time period.

Announcer: Has this been a gradual trend?

TJ: It’s been gradual over the entire time period, but the changes were much more dramatic from 1970 to 1990.

Announcer: What are the reasons behind this trend of women starting their families later?

T.J.: Our data doesn’t really cover the answer to that question, but we certainly believe that the changing roles of women in society over the past 36 years would have an impact on delayed childbearing.

Announcer: Can you tell me if this trend varies geographically—does it depend on where a women lives?

T.J.: It does depend on where women live. For example, the highest average age at first birth is in Massachusetts where it’s 28 years, and it’s as low as 23 years in Arkansas and New Mexico. And we include this data in a table in the report.

Announcer: How about race or ethnicity—are those factors that play into whether a women will have her first child later in life?

T.J.: Race and ethnicity is probably the strongest component of difference that we observe in the United States. Asian or Pacific Islander women have the oldest average age at first birth, of 28.5 years, and American Indian or Alaska Native women had the youngest age at first birth of 21.9 years. This is a dramatic difference.

Announcer: What about other countries—how does the U.S. compare internationally?

T.J.: Of the selected countries that we studied, the United States had the youngest age at first birth in 1970 and again the youngest age at first birth in 2006. Most of the countries we were able to get data for are European countries and many of them had average age at first birth in 2006 way beyond the United States and were more likely to have a common average age at first birth in 1970 that we had now in 2006.

Announcer: Anything else you’d like to add?

T.J.: Well I think the reason that we want to observe average age at first birth is not only do younger and older women play a strong role in the range of common birth outcomes such as birthweight, multiple births, and birth defects, it’s critical to know that that plays a role in the composition of the population in the future.

Announcer: Our thanks to Stephen Blumberg for joining us on this edition of “StatCast.” “StatCast” is produced by the Public Affairs Office at the National Center for Health Statistics.