If you find yourself on the receiving end of pressure disguised as concern about nearing the “end of your childbearing days,” feel free to enlighten the nosy Nellie who’s on your case. Studies have shown that women who give birth to their first child in their 30s live longer.
The most recent study appears in the August issue of the Journal of Public Health. Researchers at Coimbra University in Portugal measured the life expectancy of women at the age of 65 based on three factors: average age of women at the birth of their first child, average age at childbirth and percentage of teen mothers. They analyzed data culled from women in EU countries with an average age of 28 from 2004 to 2013.
The scientists found that the older women were when they had their first child, the longer they lived.
“The study finds that on average women who have their first child later, have a longer life expectancy,” lead author Aida Isabel Tavares, invited assistant professor of economics at the University of Coimbra, tells Global News. “So it may be deduced that on average women who have their first child in their 30s will expect to live longer than those that have their first child by their 20s.” (The study also showed that teenage mothers have a shorter life expectancy.)
Tavares notes that life expectancy for women in 2013 was estimated to be 86 years of age.
This follows a study that was published in January in the American Journal of Public Health that found women who had children later (over the age of 25) were 11 per cent more likely to live into their 90s. In addition, lead study author Aladdin H. Shadyab, a postdoctoral fellow in epidemiology at the University of California San Diego, says there’s a linear relationship.
“The older these women were [at the time of giving birth to their first child], the more likely they were to live to 90,” he tells Global News. “So, a 31 year-old was more likely to live longer than a 30-year-old and so forth.”
Although neither study was able to zero in on why this is, scientists do have some theories.
“A lot of researchers believe that women who are able to have a child at an older age are just generally healthier,” Shadyab says. “Because being older at childbirth can lead to complications for both the mother and child, those who do it and survive are likely more healthy.”
He also points to the trend that older mothers tend to be of a higher social status.
“We know a lot of the time women are delaying having kids because they’re finishing school and starting their careers, and generally more educated people of higher income live longer,” he says.
In addition, a healthy reproductive system that allows women to conceive into their 30s is an indication that they may go into menopause later, which is also linked to longevity, he says.
This is further supported by a 2014 study published in the journal Menopause that found that women who had their last child after the age of 33 were twice as likely to live to 95 than women who had their last child by 29.
“Of course this does not mean women should wait to have children at older ages in order to improve their own chances of living longer,” study author Thomas Perls, director of the New England Centenarian Study and professor of medicine at Boston University, said in a statement. “The age at last childbirth can be a rate of aging indicator. The natural ability to have a child at an older age likely indicates that a woman’s reproductive system is aging slowly and therefore so is the rest of her body.”
These studies are especially relevant today as more women are starting families later in life.
“It is important to find the optimal age of parity and then make it compatible with mothers’ and fathers’ professional lives to help promote and increase the birthrate, as well as continue to prevent teenage pregnancy,” Tavares says. “Additionally, this may be correlated with infant mortality and may be relevant to decrease [those numbers].”