While women who wait until they are older to have children are often warned by their doctors that doing so could increase the risk of miscarriage or other complications during pregnancy, a team from Denmark’s Aarhus University has found that there are also benefits to doing so.
Writing in the European Journal of Developmental Psychology, Professor Dion Sommer and his colleagues explained that older women are less likely to severely scold or to physically discipline their children than younger mothers – an approach that can have long-lasting benefits.
According to The Independent, a randomized sample of nearly 4,800 mothers living in Denmark found that a child’s understanding of language and social development improved from birth until adolescence as the age of their mother increased, regardless of their education or background.
Furthermore, between the ages of seven and 11, children born to older mothers appeared to have fewer social and/or emotional problems, although the authors found that this link seemed to stop sometime around the age of 15. At least through the first half of the teenage years, however, this study found that children born to older women seem to be happier and more well-adjusted.
Weighing the health risks with the potential benefits
The Aarhus team looked at both maternal age and the emotional and social development of these children at the ages of 7, 11 and 15. They discovered that, at ages 7 and 11, older mothers were less likely to use verbal and physical sanctions to punish their children, and those youngsters had fewer behavioral, social and emotional difficulties.
So what are the reasons for these phenomena? “We know that people become more mentally flexible with age, are more tolerant of other people and thrive better emotionally themselves,” Professor Sommer explained in a statement. “That’s why psychological maturity may explain why older mothers do not scold and physically discipline their children as much.”
“This style of parenting can thereby contribute to a positive psychosocial environment which affects the children’s upbringing,” he added. While older mothers are more likely to have stable relationships, are more education and have better access to resources, the researchers noted that even if those factors are taken into account, these women compared favorably to younger moms.
The findings should be good news to women who choose to delay starting a family in order to pursue other career-related or educational opportunities – although, as the study authors pointed out, older women still face an increased risk of giving birth prematurely, having a miscarriage or giving birth to a child with deformities.
While declining fertility and the potential physical health risks should not be entirely discounted, Sommer noted that the potential benefits to the children should also be factored into the decision. “When estimating the consequences of the rising maternal age,” the professor explained, “it’s important to consider both the physical and psychosocial pros and cons.”
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