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Women of All Races, Except American Indian, Giving First Birth Later in Life

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Delayed childbearing is becoming more and more common. Women across nearly all races are waiting until their 30s or even 40s to have their first baby, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released May 9. Since 2000, 46 states and Washington D.C. showed increases in first-birth rates for women ages 35 to 39. Women in the 40-44 year age-range had more first-birth rates in 31 states plus D.C.

This trend is consistent for all races except among American Indian women.

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Childbearing among women in their late 30s and early 40s has both upsides and downsides for mothers, society and the economy.

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On one hand, more women have had the time to pursue educations and careers, while securing some financial independence. The average age for a woman in the U.S. to have her first child was 25.8 years old in 2012, significantly up from 21.4 in 1970.

“This is good news,” Philip Cohen, a sociologist at the University of Maryland, told The Wall Street Journal. “They are more protected against the shock of earnings loss, and they’re probably more independent and better-established in their relationships.”

But delayed pregnancy also means smaller famillies. Lower fertility, which hit an all-time low in 2012, can have a negative impact of the economy’s long-term growth potential by reducing the size of the workforce and limiting the number of people to care for the elderly at a time when longevity is at its highest. 

In addition, late-in-life pregnancies, particularly for women older than 40, place both mothers and infants at higher health risks. Waiting to have a first baby can result in infertility, increased risk of genetic abnormalities, loss of pregnancy, health problems during pregnancy, pre-eclampsia, labor issues and multiple births. For more information about potential health issues, visit the University of Maryland Medical Center's Later Age Pregnancy page.

Still, precautions can be taken to reduce these risks, such as adhering to proper nutrition and diet, good prenatal care, and preparation both emotionally and financially for the baby and the care that s/he will need. Among the advantages to waiting to have babies, the University of Maryland notes: "Older women and men often find that they are more patient and realistic in coping with the challenges of a new baby than they would have been earlier in life. Likewise, they may have a greater appreciation of the joys of parenthood. Having established their careers, they may feel like they have more time to devote to the baby."