The average new mom in the United States is older than ever — but the reason might surprise you.
Women are starting families later. But the main force behind the trend is a dramatic drop in births to teens. That drove up the average age at which women give birth to their first child to 26.3 years in 2014, from 24.9 years in 2000, according to data released Thursday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Demographer and lead researcher T.J. Mathews said this isn’t the first time maternal age has risen. It also rose in the 1970s and ’80s as women’s education levels improved and contraceptive use grew.
But the recent rise is much sharper, with an additional cause. “It’s not just that older women are having babies,” Mathews said. “It’s that there are lower birth rates for women under 20.”
In 2000, about 1 in 4 first-time mothers were teens. By 2014, it was 1 in 7.
Mathews said the trend could mean smaller families in the future.
“A higher age at first birth means there’s less chance of subsequent births, so family sizes are going to be affected,” he said.
For now, the concern is making sure that women giving birth later are well informed, said Dr. Shannon Clark, an obstetrician and associate professor of maternal fetal medicine at the University of Texas at Galveston.
“There is a higher risk of chromosomal defects, such as Down syndrome,” she said. Women with health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or obesity, also may face additional risks in pregnancy.
But Clark, who has also created a website to support older moms, advised against too much focus on the negative.
“I get a lot of women who are having babies after age 35, and they’ve been told that they are a high-risk pregnancy, even if they are perfectly healthy,” she said.
“We don’t want to be Debbie Downers about this,” Clark added. “The risks have to be addressed, but every woman is different.”