I’ll never forget what my new ob-gyn said to me the first time I met him. I was about three months pregnant in a new city. He seemed friendly enough when he walked into the exam room and introduced himself to me and my boyfriend. As he settled himself onto his stool and rolled closer to where I sat awkwardly on a paper-covered exam bed, he mentioned that he was surprised to find out this was my first kid.
“I mean, after all,” he said jokingly, “you’re no spring chicken.”
I laughed because that’s what I do when I don’t know how else to react. “No spring chicken”? I was only 32.
There are a number of myths about a woman having a child later in life, including the misconception that she’s selfish to do so or is putting the health of her baby at risk. But here’s some good news: A study published in the August edition of the Journal of Public Health suggests that women who wait until their 30s to have their first kid may actually live longer than women who do so earlier.
Although there have been plenty of studies that have found similar results, study author Aida Isabel Tavares, a researcher at the University of Coimbra in Portugal, decided to take a country-level perspective. She focused on 28 countries in the European Union, covering a period of nine years.
Across the sample, Tavares tells Brides, when it came to the average relationship between life expectancy and age at parity (or the condition of having given birth), “there is indeed a tendency that says that the older women get pregnant, in particular, with the first child, the longer they live. This complements the individual and local studies that already showed this tendency.”
While any number of social and environmental factors impact a woman’s life expectancy, education and health appear to play particularly important roles, the study states. The findings echo the results of a 2013 report that found that college-educated women who delayed getting married reaped the benefits of singledom financially and enjoyed an annual income premium of more than $18,000 when compared to women who married in their 20s.
Considering the possible policy implications of her study, Tavares writes that “it may be justified to promote pregnancy in the early 30s as a means to extend women’s life span.”
The takeaway is clear, she says: If you’re a woman who ends up being what society considers an “older” mother—whether that’s because you sowed your wild oats during your 20s and waited to settle down with a partner, or you married young and wanted to get that corner office first before committing to the lifelong sentence of being called “Mommy”—there’s no need to feel guilty.
In fact, waiting until later in life to make a big commitment such as marriage is probably a good idea anyway. A 2015 study by University of Utah sociologist Nick Wolfinger found that the best ages to get hitched are between 28 and 32—if a couple wants to stay married, that is.