The trend of the average maternal age increasing steadily for the past many years comes with some benefits. Older mothers are less likely to punish and scold their children while raising them, and the children have fewer behavioral, social and emotional difficulties, according to new research from Denmark.
Having said that, the findings should be considered alongside the prevailing advice not to have children too late. The recommendation is based on knowledge about declining fertility and the health risks during pregnancy and while giving birth which are associated with advanced maternal age.
Professor Dion Sommer from Aarhus University, who is one of the researchers behind the result, says:
“When estimating the consequences of the rising maternal age it’s important to consider both the physical and psychosocial pros and cons.”
Earlier research has suggested that a higher maternal age is associated with increased psychosocial well-being during the pregnancy and the early days after the child is born. The new results indicate that the advantages for the older mothers and their children extend all the way into the children’s school age, then decline before age 15.
Late Life Motherhood
The trend of having children later in life than before is due to several reasons.
We now live longer, women have more educational and career opportunities, and contraception has improved. In 2015, the average pregnancy age was 30.9 years.
This also means that most Danish children today are born when their mother is over 30 years old, and that the proportion of children whose mother was over 40 years old when they were born has quadrupled compared to 1985.
Older mothers are at greater risk of experiencing complications during pregnancy and while giving birth than younger mothers. They are at higher risk of giving birth prematurely, having a miscarriage, and having children with deformities.
On the other hand, studies show that older women thrive better during the first part of motherhood. They worry less during the pregnancy, are more positive about becoming parents and generally have a more positive attitude towards their children.
Previous studies that have tracked children up until their school age indicate that children with older mothers, regardless of their parents’ background, education and finances, have better language skills and have fewer behavioral, social and emotional problems. This study tracked children of school age and found that children with older mothers had fewer behavioral, social and emotional problems at age 7 and 11, but not at age 15.
The reason is that older mothers have more stable relationships, are more educated and have obtained better access to material resources. But it is also interesting to look at the significance of age when these factors are removed from the equation. In such analyses, age can be interpreted as an indicator of psychological maturity.
“We know that people become more mentally flexible with age, are more tolerant of other people and thrive better emotionally themselves. That’s why psychological maturity may explain why older mothers do not scold and physically discipline their children as much,” says Professor Sommer.
“This style of parenting can thereby contribute to a positive psychosocial environment which affects the children’s upbringing.”
The study used participants from the Danish Longitudinal Survey of Children. Face to face interviews were conducted by the Danish National Centre for Social Research, all data were based on maternal responses.
ea Trillingsgaard, Dion Sommer
Associations between older maternal age, use of sanctions, and children’s socio-emotional development through 7, 11, and 15 years
European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 2016; 1 DOI: 10.1080/17405629.2016.1266248