OK ladies, take a breath. You're not the only ones hoping to have a baby or who have given birth to a second or even third child after your fortieth birthday. In fact, you're part of a growing trend of women who do.
According to a new study published by National Health Statistics Reports entitled "Fertility of Men and Women Aged 15-44 Years in the United States: National Survey of Family Growth, 2006-2010," there has been a steep rise in the number of women who gave birth to their first child at age 35-44 who have at least two children -- rising from 26 percent in 1995 to nearly 40% at the time of the report. In fact, the mean number of births to women ages 15-44 is 1.3, but for women who have a child between ages 40 and 44, the mean number of births jumps to 2.1.
Perhaps not surprisingly, nearly 60% of those who did not finish high school were teen mothers compared with just 4% percent of those who have earned a college degree. But on the other side of the spectrum, women who give birth to their first child over age 35 are likely to be college-educated.
Childless women are also among the wealthiest women in America. Nearly half of the women in the highest income category (300% or higher of poverty level) were childless compared with 24% of those in the lowest income category (0-149% of poverty level). (By the way, among mothers, two children seem to be best bet; 25% of women who had a household income of 300% or higher of poverty level had two children.)
But what are women who have higher education and higher income waiting for before becoming mothers? It seems love and marriage. Eighty percent of unmarried women are childless. And of those who are childless, 81 percent plan or hope to have children one day. Only 14 percent of childless women are voluntarily childless, meaning they have no intention of voluntarily having children. About 5 percent are unable to have children.
But Gladys Martinez, PhD and author of the report, told me in an interview that things are changing. "An increasing percentage of women are no longer linking marriage with childbearing," she said. In fact, love is enough for 22% of women whose first births "occurred within cohabiting unions, up from 12% in 2002." Still, college-educated, wealthier women are more likely to be married at the time of their first birth, late as it may have come.
Women are waiting for the circumstances to be right before motherhood. Yes, that may include education and income, but that's hardly all. Given the world of information they have at the time, women make decisions about their fertility and having a man with whom to have children is part of the picture.
Marriage and unions may look different today than they did even a decade ago, but some things never change. Most women are waiting for love before deciding to become mothers. And when it does come, even at late age, many women end up with the 2.1 children they dreamed of. This is the happy ending many women were dreaming of, even if it comes later in their life story than expected.
Melanie Notkin is the national bestselling author of Savvy Auntie: The Ultimate Guide for Cool Aunts, Great-Aunts, Godmothers and All Women Who Love Kids (Morrow/HarperCollins)
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