A team of scientists in the United Kingdom has discovered in a new study that the average age at which women start a family is increasing, primarily because they spend more years getting an education.
University of Southampton investigators, professor Máire Ní Bhrolcháin and Dr Éva Beaujouan, found that this correlation holds true both for the UK and France. Both researchers are based at the ESRC Center for Population Change.
They say that full-time education and training takes many years, and that this is one of the most important reasons why new families delay having a child by a longer period than they did in the past.
Back in 1974, women used to have their first child at an average age of 24. By 2004, the average age had increased to 27 years, which is a spectacular difference, researchers say. Throughout these years, the time it took for young men and women to finish their studies increased as well.
The researchers say that women used to complete their full training and education by the age of 18 in 1974, whereas now they do so at the age of 20. This increase naturally drives up the average age of starting a family and having a child.
“Later childbearing has been a major feature of fertility trends in recent decades, both in Britain and other developed countries,” Bhrolcháin explains, quoted by AlphaGalileo
“A large number of explanations have been suggested for the trend towards later parenthood, but our study is the first to show that the major influencing factor is that people have been staying on longer in education and training,” the scientist adds.
The research team is quick to point out that a longer education is not the only factor affecting the age at which women have their first child. The data used in the study came from the UK General Household Survey and the French Family History Survey.
“The data we have examined shows that in the past several decades young people have been starting their full adult lives around two years later on average than in the recent past and this has meant family life starting later too,” Bhrolcháin says.
“If we start the clock when young women leave full-time education or training, the delay to motherhood, compared across the decades, is much less than looking purely at the differences in their ages at their first birth,” the investigator concludes.