American Women Waiting to Begin Families
Average Age at First Birth up More than Three Years
from 1970 to 2000
The average American woman was almost 25 years old when she had her first child in the year 2000. That's compared to an average age of 21.4 years for a first birth in 1970, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report, released today, also shows that the average (or mean) age of mothers for all births rose from 24.6 years to 27.2 over the past three decades.
Over half of all births still occur to women in their 20's the peak childbearing years but the average age in this group has shifted steadily upward since 1970. The increase in the average age of child birth also reflects the recent downturn in the teen birth rate and the rising birth rates for women in their 30's and 40's. The report is based on birth certificates filed in state vital statistics offices and reported to CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.
The trend in delayed childbirth is universal--observed nationwide and among all groups in the U.S. population. Yet, the actual age at first or subsequent births varies greatly by state and by race and Hispanic origin. In 2000, the average age of women having their first child ranged from a low of 22.5 in Mississippi to a high of 27.8 years in Massachusetts.
The difference between the state with the lowest and highest average age has increased over the past 30 years. In 1970, Arkansas had the lowest average age for first birth at 20.2 and the highest age was reported by Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York (22.5 years).
Differences were even more pronounced when patterns were examined by race and Hispanic origin from 1989 (the first year detailed data are available) to 2000. American Indian women had the lowest average age at first birth (21.6 years) in 2000, up only slightly from their 21.3 average in 1989. In 2000, women of Japanese and Chinese descent had the highest average age at first birth, more than 30 years; in 1989 women in these two groups were older than other women at first birth, with an average age of about 29. The average age for non-Hispanic white women for a first birth in 2000 was 25.9 years; the average for non-Hispanic black women was 22.3 years; and the average ranged considerably for Hispanic women, from about 22 years of age for Puerto Rican and Mexican women to 27 years of age for Cuban mothers.
Comparing international patterns, the report points to an increase in the average age at first birth in most of the developed countries; averages in 2000 ranged from 24 in the Slovak Republic to 29 in Switzerland.
Several factors may account for the delay in childbearing, most importantly educational opportunities and career choices for women. From 1970 to 2000, the number of women completing college has nearly doubled and the number in the labor force has gone up by almost 40 percent. Changes in contraception use, economic cycles, social support and marriage patterns should also be considered. .
"Mean Age of Mother, 1970 to 2000" can be viewed or downloaded at the CDC Web Site at www.cdc.gov/nchs.
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