November 09, 2018

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The American family is changing in many different ways. But perhaps one of the most significant is that, on average, American women are giving birth later. And birth rates have hit a 30-year low. In the early 1970s, the average age of first-time moms was 21… it’s now 26. The same trend is impacting fathers - their age has gone from 27 to 31 over the same time period. But why did this change happen? And what does it mean for our society, our economy, and our families? To find out, we talked to Caitlin Knowles Myers, an economist at Middlebury College who’s studied female fertility, and Claire Cain Miller, a correspondent for the New York Times who’s written extensively about the topic.

Three Takeaways:

  • Myers says that there are lots of reasons for this long-term shift. There’s the changing role of women in the workplace, the rise of new kinds of birth control, and the liberalization of abortion policy. 
  • And if you take a look at folks who are currently of childbearing age, they have a myriad of reasons for delaying childbirth. When Miller interviewed people, “one thing that came up a lot... is financial concern. A lot of insecurity about college loans and the price of homes, and the price of college and whether they could actually afford to support a family in this current economy.”
  • Of course, not everyone is delaying having children. In fact, there’s a pretty strong divide between age of first birth for women with college degrees (30.3) and without them (24.8) More conservative areas of the country also tend to have lower ages of first birth than more liberal areas. Myers points out that, “if you want to look at a Red/Blue map of the politics of the United States, and you want to overlay that with a map of age at first birth, you’re going to see a pretty strong correlation.”

More Reading:

Culture, Births, Fertility, Caitlin Knowles Myers, Claire Cain Miller

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