Yesterday, the ONS released figures which show that the shift towards later motherhood is continuing. The statistics show that the average age of all mothers giving birth in England and Wales has increased from 29.5 in 2010 to 29.7 years of age in 2011, which is more than a year older than it was just 10 years ago when the average age was 28.6 years old. Women are also choosing to postpone starting their families for longer, with the average age of women at their first birth increasing to 27.9 years of age in 2011, compared to 27.7 in 2010 and 26.6 in 2001. In total, nearly half (49%) of all births in 2011 were to mothers aged 30 or over.
The figures released yesterday are part of a trend of later motherhood that has been gradually ongoing since 1973. This trend reflects broader societal changes and women’s increasing participation in higher education and the work force, with the UK now having one of the highest female employment rates in the world. These changes, and women’s changing expectations for their own lives, have played a key role in the shift towards later motherhood.
As women choose to have children later in life, they are spending more of their most fertile years trying to avoid pregnancy, putting them at greater risk of being faced with an unwanted pregnancy. This trend towards later motherhood is one reason why, whilst the abortion rate overall has remained stable, the rate has risen amongst women over 25.
These figures from the ONS reflect the way that over the last 40 years society has changed, and women’s view of their role within it has changed too. The ability of women to control the timing and size of their families– and indeed postpone motherhood until the time is right-is a crucial factor in women being able to play a full role in public life.