Baby wait: More women delaying motherhood
As some of her friends and peers are attending high school and college graduation ceremonies for their children, Alicia Currin-Moore of Oklahoma City is happily wrangling her two young sons.
Everything has gone according to plan so far for the 45-year-old legal analyst, who had her first baby at age 35.
“In waiting, I was a more grounded person,” she said. “I wanted to have children after I was married, and I didn't get married until later in life, because I was waiting for the perfect person, who is my current husband. I went to college and worked. There was a period of time when I wasn't interested in getting married. I think it was wanting to enjoy life a little bit.”
Currin-Moore is among the growing trend of women who have or will wait later in life to have their first child.
The median age of new mothers in the U.S. is 26 years old, compared to 23 in 1994, according to a recent report by the Pew Research Center.
In part, the change is due to declines in births to teens. But Pew researchers point to other factors as well.
“The Great Recession intensified this shift toward later motherhood, which has been driven in the longer term by increases in educational attainment and women's labor force participation, as well as delays in marriage,” says Gretchen Livingston, senior researcher. “Given these social and cultural shifts, it seems likely that the postponement of childbearing will continue.”
In analyzing census data, Pew also reported that the share of U.S. women at the end of their childbearing years who have ever given birth was higher in 2016 than it had been 10 years earlier, with 86 percent of women ages 40 to 44 being mothers, compared with 80 percent in 2006.
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Women are also having more children. Overall, women have 2.07 children during their lives on average, which is up from 1.86 in 2006, the lowest number on record, Pew reports.
Family size has grown among mothers, as well. In 2016, mothers at the end of their childbearing years had had about 2.42 children, compared with a low of 2.31 in 2008, according to Pew.
Currin-Moore, who contributes to the Oklahoma City Moms Blog, may have been a trendsetter. In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the birthrate for women ages 30 to 34 eclipsed that of those ages 25 to 29.
The birthrate for women ages 30 to 34 was about 103 per 1,000. The rate for women ages 25 to 29 was 102 per 1,000.
Becoming a mother at an older age has led to interesting dinner talks for Currin-Moore, who is a former teacher, and her sons.
One of them came home from school and mentioned his class was asked to talk to their parents about where they were during the Oklahoma City bombing. Currin-Moore told her son she was teaching kindergarten, protecting her students against what many feared would be more attacks.
“He came back the next day and said most of friends' moms were in middle school,” Currin-Moore said.
Pros and cons
Experts say there can be benefits to waiting later to start a family, especially when both partners are established in their careers. In those instances, the family finances are stable, which provides a good foundation for child-rearing.
"There's not one right way to do it, but what people need to understand is we have a society that sets us up to think we can have it all," said Nathan Hardy, director of the Center for Family Services at Oklahoma State University. "Many families are surprised by the numerous challenges that come with having children later in life. You want a career and you want children, and those expectations are not always cleanly met."
In addition to the health risk, women who put off having children until later face psychological challenges, including regret over not starting sooner, whether they are putting their careers ahead of their kids, and watching their peers approach the empty-nest part of their lives, Hardy said.
For older first-time mothers who want to remain in the workforce, juggling child care and work, negotiating domestic roles with their husbands, and simply having the energy to keep up with their children can be a daunting task.
"Often times they are at the peak of their careers and dealing with teenagers at the same time," Hardy said. "Most people come to decide they can't do it all, and they have to make a choice. Some decide their career days are over, and that transition can be hard, going from a career to becoming a full-time mother."
Older first-time mothers who are still working generally fare better when extended family is available to provide child care and other support, Hardy said.
"But sometimes their parents are also old and can struggle with helping out," he said. "They are older parents who already struggled raising young children themselves, and are now grandparents who are older. It's something to watch out for, especially as this becomes the norm. It can be a big problem."
In Oklahoma, the teen birthrate remains among the highest in the nation. The same holds true for birthrates at age 20 to 24, where only Arkansas and Mississippi have higher birthrates.
Brittni Brown, a Moore resident, was among her peers across the country who waited until 26 to have her first child, a daughter. She's pregnant with her second.
Brown graduated and married four months later. The honeymoon produced the first kid. Brown said 26 was the perfect age for her to start having children.
“I always thought I would have kids younger,” she said. “I am happy that I will be 44 when my child is 18 and graduating. I will still feel young. I'm glad my parents will have grandchildren while still young, and be active and watch them grow up.”
The old stereotype of parents pushing their children to have their grandkids is still around, but not as much as it used to be, Brown said. She never felt that pressure from her folks.
Instead, she's formed the family she always wanted, when she wanted. Brown's husband works in outside sales. She blogs for the OKC Moms website.
“I always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom,” Brown said. “I'm thankful for that.”