Forget teen pregnancies. Older moms are the new normal.

Forget teen pregnancies. Older moms are the new normal.

For the first time in recorded Canadian history, mothers over 40 are officially having more kids than teens are.

"Bridget Jones’s Baby." Oscar® winners Renée Zellweger and Colin Firth are joined by Patrick Dempsey for the next chapter of the world’s favorite singleton who finds herself unexpectedly expecting. (Universal Pictures)

“Bridget Jones’s Baby.” Oscar® winners Renée Zellweger and Colin Firth tifie joined by Patrick Dempsey for the next chapter of the world’s favourite singleton who finds herself unexpectedly expecting. (Universal Pictures)

When Bridget Jones gave birth in September, with the release of Bridget Jones’s Baby, the character will happen to be 40 years old. This is not unrealistic. As teens take birth control and mothers prefer to be changing careers than changing diapers, young and middle-aged women are rescheduling motherhood to a later date. And now, for the first time ever recorded in Canada, women aged 40 and older have surpassed teenagers in giving birth.

“I think of it as an evolutionary change,” says Elizabeth Gregory, a professor at the University of Houston who interviewed 100 women who started families after age 35 in the United States, where the trend is similar. “Women can control their fertility in ways they couldn’t before.”

According to the most recent Statistics Canada data, in 2012, women over 40 gave birth to 13,395 children, while teenagers produced 12,915. Demographers have been expecting this tipping point for decades. In 1974, the older age group gave birth to just 3,550 children while teenagers produced 38,650—and the numbers have shifted each year since. The transition has just been confirmed in the U.K. and Australia as well, while data show that men are also fathering children later in life: the average age of Canadian fathers at birth of their children was 41 in 2011, compared to 39 in 1995.

MORE: Unwanted pregnancy—a new kind of mid-life crisis

So what’s the holdup? “I wasn’t one of those women off pursuing a big fancy career,” says Erika Schroll, a mother who gave birth at age 40 without assisted reproductive technology, after a first birth at age 30 with her former husband. “I just wanted a partner who I had a better working relationship with.”

Indeed, while teenage pregnancy has fallen due to later marriages and better contraception since the 1960s, older women are delaying pregnancy for the sake of work or better lives. The recently adopted medical term is “mothers of advanced maternal age,” although Schroll says doctors still refer to them as women with “geriatric pregnancies.” “We find it hilarious,” says Schroll. “It makes you feel like [you need] a walker and a cane.”

A pregnant woman sits in bed in a hospital birth centre during her natural child birth laboring process. (Daniel MacDonald/Getty Images)

A pregnant woman sits in bed in a hospital birth centre during her natural child birth laboring process. (Daniel MacDonald/Getty Images)

Perhaps they don’t need crutches, but many do need assisted reproductive technology (ART). Quebec, Manitoba and New Brunswick offer tax credits for in vitro fertilization, a type of ART in which a doctor draws sperm and eggs from a man and woman, fertilizes the egg and re-inserts it into a woman’s womb to increase the chance of pregnancy. It costs about $10,000 per round. Last year, Ontario began covering the procedure for all women under 43, although not the required drugs, which can cost an additional $5,000.

Along with celebrities including Celine Dion, Tina Fey and Halle Berry, who all gave birth after 40, the highly educated represent a primary clientele for ART. “Academics have a low fertility rate because we spend a lot of time in graduate school,” says Rachel Margolis, a professor of sociology at the University of Western Ontario. “I know quite a lot of people who have tried [ART]. There’s not very much taboo on this.”

There is trepidation, however. Mothers over 40 both receive advanced monitoring during pregnancy and are offered inductions of labour at 39 weeks, rather than the 41 weeks offered to younger women. Their children are at increased risk of chromosomal abnormalities causing autism or other developmental disabilities, according to the Society of Gynecologists and Obstetricians in 2011. Pam MacInnis, a midwife in Toronto, hears fears from her older clients. “They’ll say, ‘how many blood tests have I had? How many injections? [They’ll talk about] the increased watch they’re under, the appointments … It might take away from the general experience of pregnancy.”

Another downside, Schroll knows, is that she won’t be around as long for her now 17-month-old son, Paul. “One of his parents could die in high school, and that’s not a bonus,” she says. Gregory echoes, “It’s not predictable whether you’ll be there in the long-term for your kids. They’ll miss you.” Further, if the next generation delays having kids also, there will be fewer grandparents. As Gregory says, “You might be 80 or 90 [when your grandchildren are born], and you might be dead.”

Yet when maternity comes with maturity, mothers can parent with less financial stress, more stable relationships and more life experience to pass onto their kids. “The media says women don’t understand that their fertility wanes, and that they’re stupid,” says Gregory. “But actually, they are being responsible and thoughtful.”

“Tick-tock anxiety,” or the social pressure on women to reproduce, is beginning to fade, as society becomes more accepting of women not having children at all. Although some women may feel a biological urge to give birth, Gregory says, “what we’re finding is maybe there isn’t a biological urge to parent. Some people delay and realize they can have happy lives without children.”

Or with them, later in life. Schroll says she’s less anxious parenting Paul than she was while parenting her firstborn, Arabel. “I’m not so invested in the ‘make baby a genius’ [programs],” she says. “He likes to chuck toys over the baby gate. At 25, I’d be like, ‘Stop that right now!’ Older parents, we see the sweetness.” While her boy has proved more challenging than her girl, she concludes, “it’s a more intense baby, but a more relaxed me.”

CORRECTION, May 2, 2017: A previous version of this story identified ART as Artificial Reproductive Therapy. In fact, that acronym stands for Assisted Reproductive Technology.


Forget teen pregnancies. Older moms are the new normal.

  1. I think it is sad….your may be dead by high school….I think life is hard enough..the older parents will only make it harder..I had my last child older…he is now 20 and he finally told me he did not like it…he felt he missed out on our good years…he was right…who cares if you’s a learning curve for the kids…wish I had started earlier.

    • There were always older mothers because some mothers had many children. My mother had nine so it took her several years to give birth to them all. She became a grandmother when my youngest sister was 8 years old. As a 53 grandmother, I can say I wouldn’t want to be parenting a 13 year old at this point in my life. I don’t have the energy I did in my 30’s and 40’s. I also completely disagree that older parents are less uptight. The truth is very young parents don’t often know enough to be uptight. Whereas first time older parents read a lot and worry about their child’s welfare prodigiously. Of course everyone relaxes when it comes to child number 2. The first is made of glass and the second one is made of rubber.

  2. Everything about human life has changed. People live longer, they don’t become adult until at least 30, they take longer in school and in leaving home…..and they have babies later. Babies are usually bigger too.

    We’re not on the veldt anymore folks.


      The human brain matures in the mid twenties. Just because you don’t treat your adult children like adults until they are thirty doesn’t change the fact that their brains reached full maturation in their mid twenties.
      When women choose to have infants later in life, their eggs are aged. If their partner is older, his sperm is aged and the chances they will have children with Downs Syndrome dramatically increases. For a man it is twice as likely. For a woman, it increases with age starting at 35 years when the risk is 1 in 350; at age 40, 1 in 90; at age 45, 1 in 32. At age 50, the risk of a woman having a Downs Syndrome infant is 1 in 8.
      Yes, we are living longer due to better hygiene and diet and advances in technology and pharmaceuticals. However, the realities of the biology of the human body have not altered in terms of the effects that aging have on fertility and our eggs and sperm. To argue that is not true, is to ignore scientific facts. For someone who claims to have three university degrees, you are a little dense when it comes to truths of human biology or are you just practicing creative thinking?

      • Go away, fool.

        • Hahahaha! Good one. Your education level is revealing itself in new and novel ways.

          • So is yours……apparently you don’t understand the word ‘good-bye’

            I see I’ll have to revert to my old word for it


      • 3 university degrees?! The tale grows longer…

        • You’re a newbie…..that’s why.

  3. Not the best article ever written by MacLean’s that’s for sure. The title is poor (forget teen pregnancy, should we really do that?) Chromosomal abnormalities do not cause Autism (you are thinking about Downs Syndrome). I have never heard a scientific connection between later life pregnancy and Autism. I would have liked to see your source on that one.

    • You are absolutely correct. It is all about Down’s Syndrome. 69 percent are born to older mothers. Familial genetics are responsible in many cases of Down’s Syndrome in younger mothers. I was surprised to learn that even older fathers increase risk by double. They always thought it was about the age of the eggs and the sperm age was not a problem but apparently this isn’t correct.

  4. While it is still biologically possible to have children into our 40’s, I no longer recommend it. In hindsight – Parenthood (or minding young children) is generally a young person’s game – your body recovers better from the pregnancy, you have more energy, and your brain doesn’t mind missing some sleep.

    Yes, I have more money and stability for my children by having them later. My logic told me raising kids would be an easier task if I wasn’t as preoccupied with finances and getting a house. I didn’t appreciate that I could have done both at the same time – same amount of energy exerted. It would have taken a little longer for the finances to fall into place, but I would have more energy to raise my kids.

  5. I am also the child of an older Mom, but unlike the article which describes women over 40 having babies on purpose, I was a baby by mistake. Well, my Father jokingly called me a mistake, my Mother called me a surprise. Either way, the fact is my Dad was 45 and my Mom was 42 when I was born back in the late ’60s. They already had four girls before me, who, at the time of my birth, were in their late teens or early twenties. There is a natural order to things, and when that natural order gets out of order, someone sometimes get hurt. Understand, I am not complaining or feeling sorry for myself. My parents loved me and cared for me and did their best to give me a pretty decent life but there were plenty of awkward moments and some sad circumstances I dealt with that I hope some of these women consider when decide to have children as they themselves enter middle age. One of the issues that I deal with even today is the resentment I get from from my sisters. When they started to have their own children, (not long after I was born), my parents had their hands full with me. So there was never that bonding time where Grandparents are supposed to spoil their Grandchildren. At the same time, with almost a 20 year age difference between us, my sisters and I never became close as siblings. We grew up in the same house, with the same parents, just not together. So I was basically an only child. And as an only child, I don’t have memories of going to Disney World or going to concerts or anything like that with my parents. But I do remember going to the hospital to visit one or the other as they suffered gall bladder attacks, angina attacks, and heart attacks on a fairly regular basis. I remember being 8 or 9 years old and crying myself to sleep at night wondering if my Mom was going to be alive the next morning. My parents were older, and got tired quicker, and wherever we went, people thought my parents were actually my grandparents. So I got to live the sheltered life and enjoy all the feelings of low self esteem, shyness, and embarrassment that came with it. My parents both survived my childhood, and a myriad of health issues to become active seniors, so things almost seemed normal, at least for a short time. I got married in my late 20’s, bought a house in my early 30’s and started to have my own kids. That’s when the vicious circle of having older parents came around again. My Dad went to a nursing home, and my Mom wasn’t doing so well on her own at her home. So she was constantly needing me, as was my exhausted wife who was up all night with a fussy baby. While other grandparents took their grandchildren for the weekend to give the parents a break, my children’s grandparents eventually didn’t even know my children’s names. I found myself in the most unusual position of having my children and my parents in diapers at the same time. Sandwiched between the generations, with both young and old equally needy of my attention. Both of my parents are gone now, I am in my mid 40’s and my kids are still in elementary school. I know people my age that still have their grandparents alive, and their own parents, although nearing retirement, they are still working. That still seems to be the normal. My situation is not normal, not natural and has been a very difficult one for me, my parents, my wife, and my children. And my kids will never know what a big family Christmas dinner is….until they start relationships of their own. I’m not saying women over 40 shouldn’t have kids, but I hope they have a big family with plenty of support to fill in the gaps that were never filled in for me.