What’s the best age to become a mum? Between 20 and 35, according to the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. During these 15 years, it’s easier to conceive, and you are less likely to have high blood pressure, a miscarriage or require a caesarian section – need I go on? You’re also more likely to cope with sleep deprivation and have enough energy to win the mum’s race at sports day.
But what’s the best age to start bringing up a child? According to research at Aarhus University in Denmark, it may be a bit older – mid-30s upwards. In a study of 4,741 Danish mothers, being older was associated with raising children with fewer behavioural, social and emotional difficulties at ages seven and 11. In Denmark, the average age for having children is 30.9, and the proportion of babies born to mothers over the age of 40 has quadrupled since 1985. Data from the Office for National Statistics says that the average age of women having children in England and Wales was 30.3 years, with rates in older women rising since the mid-1970s.
Women who delay childbirth are often (but not always ) more educated, financially more secure and in more stable relationships than younger mothers. Could these factors alone explain differences in child development?
The research suggests there’s more to it. Older mothers have greater emotional maturity, tend to be more forgiving and are more flexible in their parenting. These factors encourage an authoritative (as opposed to authoritarian) parenting style, which balances reasoning with setting limits for behaviour. The Danish study found that older mothers (over the age of 33) were less likely to verbally or physically punish their children. They were more likely to be patient and use less discipline overall. However, the 15-year-olds in the study had the same level of emotional problems regardless of their mother’s age.
The study is not a lone beacon in showing the bonuses of older motherhood. Last month, research from the Max Planck Institute found that children born to older mothers did better in cognitive ability tests than those born to younger mothers. These tests are thought to be predictors for educational achievements and health in later life.
However, while problems during childbirth are rare, they, along with fertility problems, are more common among older women. The causal link here is stronger. Being an older mum isn’t better – but once you have had the baby without any major issues, it’s not worse than being a younger mum. The take-home message (which I, as an older mum, would endorse) is that it can be easier to be more patient with your children in your late 30s than your late 20s. Sometimes.
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