We’ve talked before about how women are waiting longer than ever to have their first child. In 2014, the average age of a new mother in the United States was 26.3 years old, up from 22.7 years old in 1980; experts estimate it’ll continue to trend up. (In Manhattan, it’s a nearly nationwide high of 31.)
But it’s important to recognize the wide gap between child-bearing age within the US, as recently as 2016—and that a mother’s age at the time her children are born has a pretty strong impact on their lives.
As reported in The New York Times, older mothers—those having their first kids after the age of 30—are “more likely to have one or more degrees and to be planning to invest in their children’s educations. The wage penalty for women who have children is high, so many try to advance in their careers before giving birth. They are more likely than young mothers to be married, and less likely to divorce.”
Additionally, older parents “have more years to earn money to invest in violin lessons, math tutoring and college savings accounts — all of which can set children on very different paths.” And as sociologists quoted in the article agree, “research has shown that where children start in life strongly influences where they end up.”
Learn more about the benefits of having children later in life.
But the equation isn’t as simple as having kids later = better opportunities for the kids. The age of a first-time mother is reflective of her socioeconomic status, her educational opportunities, and even the gender equality of the culture in which she lives or was raised.
According to the NYT, “the differences in when women start families are a symptom of the nation’s inequality.” Young motherhood is correlated with a lack of higher education, in part, sociologists explain, because women without access to higher education due to financial constraints are also less likely to have access to reliable birth control, and are more likely to live in conservative areas where women’s roles are more “traditional.”
This can become a vicious cycle, as those who have children earlier miss out on the benefits of waiting, for themselves and for their children—compounding their already lower socioeconomic status.