Older mothers - facts and figures
Are there really more "older mothers" than ever before, or has this been exaggerated by the media?
In years gone by having children later was not exceptional. Families were larger and women often continued bearing children until the end of their reproductive lives. What is remarkable now is that it is the age at which women give birth to their first child which is higher, leaving an ever smaller window of biological opportunity for second and subsequent children should they be desired.
26,559 women aged 40 and over had a live birth in 1938 -v- 29,994 in 2012
Interestingly, in 1938 there were almost as many live births to women aged 40 and over as there were in 2012. 26,559 in 1938 and 29,994 in 2012.
The highest recorded number of live births for women aged 40 and over was in 1947, when there were 34,696, more than the 29,994 in 2012.
Also in 1947 114,350 babies were born to women aged 35-39 years of age, just a few hundred short of the 114,797 born to women of the same age in 2012.
To put this into perspective, in 1961 the Pill was invented and the 1967 Abortion Act allowed legalised abortion in the England and Wales (and Scotland too).
For a PDF chart showing live birth statistic trends from 1938-2012 recorded by age of the mother click here [opens in a new window].
Average age of mothers in England and Wales having live births, 2012
The UK's Office for National Statistics reports that in 2012, the average age of mothers in England and Wales having live births increased to 29.8 years, compared with 29.7 years in 2011. This compares to 27.9 years in 1992. The 2012 rise represents a continuation of the increasing age of the mother recorded since 1976.
Additionally, the number of live births to mothers aged 40 and over has more than quadrupled over the last three decades, from 6,519 in 1982 to 29,994 in 2012.
Since 2001 when the total fertility rate was at a record low, fertility levels have risen for women in all age groups with the exception of those aged under 20.
The largest percentage increase in fertility rates was for women aged 40 and over followed by women aged 35–39 with increases of 66% and 53% respectively. This continues the trend of rising fertility among women aged 35 and over recorded during the 1980s and 1990s. In addition, fertility rates for women aged 30–34 have increased by 29% since 2001.
What does the number of births depend on?
The number of births is dependent on both fertility rates and the size and age structure of the female population. Fertility rates for England and Wales increased slightly for 2012 to an average of 1.94 children per woman from 1.93 in 2011. This was largely due to women delaying childbearing to older ages. *
The number of births in a given year is dependent on the number of women in the key childbearing ages (15–44 years) and on fertility rates in that year.
Compared with 2011, the number of live births in 2012 decreased for women aged under 20, 20–24 and 35–39. For women aged 25–34 and 40 and over, the number of live births increased. This reasons are as follows:-
Women aged 40 and over
For women aged 40 and over, the rise in births was driven solely by a rise in fertility, as the estimated female population in England and Wales aged 40–44 decreased between mid-2011 and mid-2012.
Women aged 30-34
The rise in births to women aged 30–34 was caused by an increase in fertility and an increase in the estimated female population in England and Wales at these ages.
Women aged 35-39
For women aged 35–39 the decrease in the number of births was due to a decrease in the estimated female population in England and Wales at this age, since fertility levels increased.
View ONS Birth summary tables for England and Wales 2012 (opens in a new window)
Birth statistics for Scotland (opens in a new window)
Birth statistics for Northern Ireland (opens in a new window)
Celebrity older mothers »»
- 30.1 years
In all European countries the average age for mothers to give birth has been rising steadily over the years. View a country by country list here (opens in a new window).
What about other countries?
Asia, Japan and the U.S. are all seeing a rise in the average age at first birth. This is increasingly spreading to countries in the developing world e.g. China, Iran and Turkey.
In the U.S. the average age of first childbirth was 25.4 in 2010, compared with the average age of 21.4 in 1970.
In Canada, in 2010, the average age of mothers who gave birth was 29.6 years, an increase over the previous three decades. This is similar to the average age at the end of the 2nd World War.
Up to 51.2% of all mothers who gave birth in 2010 were 30 years of age or older. Ontario and British Columbia had the highest average age of mothers, and the highest percentage of births to mothers 30 and over.
(Source: Employment & Social Development Canada)
India: number of first-time mums over 40 increasing...
"I see many more 40-year-old mothers-to-be in my practice,” says Dr Indira Hinduja, gynaecologist and obstetrician at the Jaslok hospital. "A few years back there was only the odd case of late pregnancy. But of late, it has almost become a regular thing." Agrees Dr CN Purandare, obstetrician and gynaecologist: "With the marriage age being pushed further, more women above 35 and even 40 are planning and going through with late pregnancies." Read article in full » [will open in new window]
* Jefferies J (2008), Fertility Assumptions for the 2006-based national population projections (297 Kb Pdf) , Population Trends 131 pp 19–27, spring 2008..
** (Ni Bhrolcháin M and Beaujouan E (2012), Fertility postponement is largely due to rising educational enrolment, Population Studies: A Journal of Demography.)).