Are first time parents older now than past generations?

shutterstock_377612995Trends and values in childbirth and parenthood had seen a lot of changes since the 70s. The circumstances that led people to decide on when to start having a family of their own have varied greatly with both men and women of today’s generation choosing personal growth and career stability as more desirable over having children.

As a result, first-time parents are older now than their counterparts were more than two decades ago with women being older by four years and men by three years.

In 1990, records show that the most number of childbirths came from teens (13 percent) as compared to the childbirths from women who are 35 years and older (9 percent). The number changed dramatically in 2008 when 10 percent of births were attributed to teens while 14 percent to women ages 35 and older.

In the United States, more and more women decide to wait until they are older to start having their own children.

The average age of first-time mothers also saw a huge increase since 1980 when it was 22.7. Today, that number increased by 3.3 years since a first-time mother’s average age reached a record high of 26 years old.

Statistics also show that the number of first-time mothers who are aged 35 years and older is nine times higher than the number of first-time moms in the 1970s.

The most notable change is seen among women ages 40 and older. Records show that the birth rate of women in this group, which had always been relatively small, had actually tripled in number since 1990.

The reasons behind older parenting 

More than one in five Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 said that they have decided to postpone on having a baby because the economy is bad. This view is shared by the same proportion of people who had to put off marriage until the economy becomes better.

Attitudes on parenthood have also changed through the years. When parents were asked why they decided to enter parenthood and have their first child, an overwhelming majority  or 87 percent answered “the joy of having children.”

That response was changed half a century later when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave a green light on the sale of birth control pills. The move had somehow “influenced” today’s parents as almost half of them, when asked with the same question, had responded “there wasn’t a reason; it just happened.”

Other reasons that are worth citing include improved ways of pregnancy prevention, increased workplace opportunities for women and an evolving reproductive technology that provides nature and age-defying fertility solutions.

Women’s changing roles 

Education has played a huge influence on how women had decided about having children. Most mothers of newborns today are more educated than before. From 41 percent of mothers who are college-educated in 1990, it rose to 54 percent in 2006.

Moreover, 71 percent of mothers of newborns who were 35 years  and older had at least some college education.

As more and more women seek better education for themselves, they also become more qualified as ever to meet the demands of joining the workforce.

At this point, it becomes more obvious on how women have changed their priorities when it comes to starting a family and bearing a child.

Majority seemed to share a similar pattern of priorities which they believe to be the most ideal: education, employment, stability and finally, children.

In other words, there has to be stability first before one can decide to start having a child.

The rise of two working-parent households 

In the past, men had been perceived as the sole family provider while women were expected to stay home and take care of the house and the children (and of course, their husband).

Now, more mothers are also bringing in a paycheck than in the past with a great deal of them even landing very attractive positions in their workplace.

In the 1950s, there were only 19 percent of mothers with small children who worked outside their home. Today, however, more than 60 percent of mothers who have children younger than 6 years old are in the work force.

Working mothers of older children are even more common. From around 10 percent that was recorded in 1984, the percentage of working mothers with children that are aged from 6 to 17, is 80, as of 2008.

Will the trend on older parenting continue?

Alvin Toffler, author of “Future Shock” and “The Third Wave,” wrote about how couples of the future would choose to postpone on entering parenthood because they believe that having children will affect their present way of life. They think that once there are children in the house, they can no longer enjoy doing the things that they used to do such as going on a trip for a vacation.

One of the ways that could reverse the trend is the so-called “workplace reform.” Most women, after entering the workplace, ended up deciding that waiting to have children would be the best thing to do. This could be triggered by factors such as a booming career and overflow of opportunities.

However, there is also one controversial issue behind the decision on postponing parenthood. Apparently, women, particularly those who have children, are also expected to adhere to certain gender-specific rules and regulations around the workplace.

Few of these working mothers who are still breastfeeding their child are allowed to have the so-called “periodical breastfeeding breaks” while they are in the office. In some cases, breastfeeding women who were “caught” as violating the rules had to face some consequences such as being forced out of the office or having to pay some amount of fine.

Breastfeeding advocates are now pushing for reforms in the workplace, adding that a “more baby-friendly” office would be the best solution.

There is also a growing concern on the need to reform the rules governing both maternity and paternity leave benefits. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are only 12% of people in the US who have access to paid parental leave. Likewise, only 5 percent of workers from the low-wage group receive the benefit of maternity leave. The policies on approving parental leave continue to be solely dependent on the decision from individual employers.

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