Having kids later not harmful to their health, new study shows
Although it had previously been thought that starting a family later in life can increase the risk of health problems among children as they grow up, new research shows that the mother's education and the number of years she survives after giving birth affect the health of her grown-up children, and not the age she was when she gave birth.
Writing in the journal Demography, a team of German researchers challenge the idea that mothers delivering later in life have children that are less healthy as adults due to physiological effects like decreasing oocyte quality or a weakened placenta.
The study, using data from 18 000 children and their mothers in the United States, was led by researcher Mikko Myrskylä from the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany. He found that children born to mothers aged between 35 and 44 are no less healthy later in life than those whose mothers delivered between ages 25 and 34.
Although the later a woman gets pregnant, the greater the risk of miscarriage and the onset of conditions like trisomy 21, generally speaking, children born to mothers aged 24 and younger have a higher number of diagnosed conditions, die earlier, remain smaller in size and are more likely to be obese as adults.
The study shows that the earlier in life women give birth, the more their children suffer from illnesses as adults. Children born to mothers between age 20 and 24 suffer from 5 % more diseases than those born to mothers aged 25 to 34, and for those born to mothers aged 14 to 19 years, this figure jumps to 15 %.
Mikko Myrskylä comments: 'The data [suggest] that what at first [glance] seems like a negative advanced maternal age effect is an illusion driven by the mother's education and the age at which the child loses the mother.'
Interestingly, the relationship between maternal age and education has been reversed over time. Whereas in the early 20th century, parents with lower education continued to have children later in life and better educated parents had less children at older ages, today, the better educated a woman is statistically, the later in life she chooses to have a child.
This study will help assuage health fears for a generation choosing to have children later and later in life.
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Data Source Provider: Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Document Reference: Mikko Myrskylä and Andrew Fenelon, 'Maternal Age and Offspring Adult Health: Evidence from the Health and Retirement Study', Demography, OnlineFirst, 2012. doi: 10.1007/s13524-012-0132-x
Subject Index: Coordination, Cooperation; Life Sciences; Medicine, Health; Scientific Research; Social Aspects