On average, American women now have children at age 26. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Geography and education are, not surprisingly, influential factors in when a woman has her first child. But they might be more influential than was ever thought before.
Caitlin Myers of Middlebury College for The New York Times, used data from the National Center for Health Statistics to find that college education is the biggest factor determining the age at which women become mothers.
Women without a bachelor’s degree have children, on average, seven years before women who have completed secondary education. The women having children later often use those extra years prior to motherhood to finish a degree or start a career, thus earning more money. This, The Cut, pointed out, is indicative of the nation’s socioeconomic gap, because secondary education has become crucial to attaining a living wage and providing for a family. Women with more wealth have more opportunity to attend college before becoming mothers and then have more wealth to provide for their children.
Though not as influential as education, geography is another factor in the age at which women give birth for the first time. Women, on average, have their first child later if they lived in larger coastal cities and younger if they lived in rural areas, the Great Plains or the South. In a huge, metropolitan city like New York, women had their first child at an average age of 31. In a small, rural place like Todd County, South Dakota, however, women had their first child at an average age of 20.
Myers said that the age gap for first time mothers has been narrowing due to a decrease in teenage births, but that the gap might now be more meaningful. Moving up the socioeconomic ladder is getting harder as time goes on, and a mother’s circumstances could now have a larger effect on their children’s futures.
The study also looked into the attitudes and values held by women on each side of the motherhood age gap and found that younger mothers were more likely to be conservative or religious, be pro-life, and value traditional gender roles. Conversely, older mothers tended to be liberal and split caregiving and money-earning responsibilities with men.
Sociologist Philip Cohen told the Times that, though younger mothers are less gender-equal on average than older mothers, they are not less happy.