Journal Article

Advantages of later motherhood

Der Gynäkologe, 50:10, 767–772 (2017)
Open Access


Background: In high-income countries childbearing has been increasingly postponed since the 1970s and it is crucial to understand the consequences of this demographic shift. The literature has tended to characterize later motherhood as a significant health threat for children and parents.

Objectives: We contribute to this debate by reviewing recent evidence suggesting that an older maternal age can also have positive effects.

Materials: Literature linking the age at parenthood with the sociodemographic characteristics of the parents, with macrolevel interactions, and with subjective well-being.

Methods: Comprehensive review of the existing literature.

Results: Recent studies show that there can also be advantages associated with later motherhood. First, whilst in past older mothers had low levels of education and large families, currently older mothers tend to have higher education and smaller families than their younger peers. Consequently, children born to older mothers in the past tended to have worse outcomes than children born to younger mothers, whilst the opposite is true in recent cohorts. Second, postponement of childbearing means that the child is born at a later date and in a later birth cohort, and may benefit from secular changes in the macroenvironment. Evidence shows that when the positive trends in the macroenvironment are strong they overweigh the negative effects of reproductive ageing. Third, existing studies show that happiness increases around and after childbirth among older mothers, whereas for younger mothers the effect does not exist or is short-lived.

Conclusion: There are important sociodemographic pathways associated with postponement of childbearing which might compensate or even more than compensate for the biological disadvantages associated with reproductive ageing.

The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.