At what age is a baby born?

The age at which a woman becomes pregnant and how many children she gives birth is always good subject for discussion. Numerous studies show that the health risks for children increase with the age of their mothers. For example, the later a woman becomes pregnant, the greater the risk that the child will be born with Down's syndrome or later in life with Alzheimer's, high blood pressure or diabetes.

Meanwhile, according to OECD figures, the average age of women in Germany and Great Britain at their first birth is around 30 years. And in Sweden the proportion of first-time mothers older than 35 is already more than a quarter. Many medical professionals consider such late pregnancies to be risky.

But a new long-term study shows that the relationship between the age of the mother and the health of the children is arguably more complex. The core suction: Children from older mothers can even be healthier than those from younger ones - provided the external conditions are right.

Environmental factors can be more important than individual risks

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, together with the London School of Economics, analyzed data on more than 1.5 million women and men from Sweden who were born between 1960 and 1991. They looked at height, physical fitness, school leaving qualifications, and level of education. The results were published in the trade journal Population and Development Review released.

The researchers found that children of older mothers were, on average, taller, better at school, and more likely to go to university than children of younger mothers. This was true even if the mothers were older than 40 when the child was born. On average, these children went to school or university about a year longer than the children whose mother was only in their early twenties when they were born.

Above all, the work probably shows the great influence of medical-technical progress: Children who are born later tend to benefit from a better organized health system - provided that the respective state has made progress here. The better school performance can also be explained in this way, because between 1960 and 1990 the educational systems in the western industrialized countries were considerably expanded.

Previous studies, however, have mostly disregarded these developments and instead emphasized the health risks of late pregnancies, write the researchers led by Mikko Myrskylä. However, the new research shows that technical and social developments can more than offset the risks of late pregnancy. To what extent the data can be transferred to other countries with a different level of development is still unclear.