There are a number of myths about getting pregnant and having a child later in life, including the misconception that it's selfish or puts the health of the baby at risk. But here’s some good news: A study conducted by researchers at the University of Coimbra in Portugal, published in the August 2017 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 those who do so earlier.
Although there have been other studies that have found similar results, study author and researcher Aida Isabel Tavares decided to take a country-level perspective. She focused on 28 countries in the European Union, covering a period of nine years.
Meet the Expert
Aida Isabel Tavares is a Portuguese health economist, health analyst, and quantitative methods expert. She is currently an assistant professor at the Lisbon School of Economics and Management in Lisbon, Portugal.
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.”
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.”
While any number of social and environmental factors may impact a woman’s life expectancy, education and health appear to play particularly important roles, the study states. These findings echo the results of a 2019 report published in the Genus Journal of Population Sciences that found higher levels of education are correlated with increased life expectancy. The study focused on how changes in educational attainment contributed to overall life expectancy over a 20 year period in Denmark, Italy, and the United States. Findings showed that as the proportion of those with medium- and high-level education increased and those with low-level education decreased, the average life expectancy increased by several years.
"As described in the fundamental social causes of health inequalities theory, education helps individuals to develop health-related resources, allowing highly educated people to enjoy longer and healthier lives," the study says.
In fact, more and more men and women are waiting until later in life to make big commitments, like getting married and having children, specifically to pursue education and solidify their careers first. A 2020 survey conducted by SoFi and Modern Fertility found that 49% of respondents were actively delaying having kids despite wanting them one day, and the number-one reason was financial. Of the survey respondents, 35% said they were delaying starting a family until after they earned a certain job title or level in their career, and 15% wanted to progress further in their schooling.
Though waiting to have children until you're in your 30s may allow you to focus on your own life and goals and, according to studies, lengthen your life, you've probably heard that there are risks associated with getting pregnant at age 35 and older. Getting pregnant for the first time at this age is increasingly common, however. According to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's most recent National Vital Statistics Report, 52.6 out of every 1,000 women gave birth for the first time between the ages of 35 and 39 in 2018.
There are things to keep in mind, though, if you wait until 35 or after to try to get pregnant. According to the American Center for Obstetrics and Gynecology, once you turn 35, your number of viable eggs starts to decrease more rapidly. There's also a 20% chance that you'll have a miscarriage, and you're more likely to experience health problems, like preeclampsia and gestational diabetes. These risks aren't typically associated with pregnancy in your early 30s, though, and most generally healthy women are likely to have a healthy pregnancy regardless of their age.
One takeaway is clear, says Tavares: If you’re a woman who ends up being what society considers an “older” mother—whether it’s because you embraced freedom during your 20s, focused on your education, and waited to settle down with a partner, or you married young and wanted to get that corner office before committing being called “Mommy”—there’s no need to feel guilty.