Shifting Parenthood to Advanced Reproductive Ages: Trends, Causes and Consequences

Main Article Content

Tomáš Sobotka


This article discusses different aspects of the shift towards later parenthood which has affected all industrialised countries. It outlines trends in delayed childbearing and points out the increase in childlessness and growing educational disparities in first birth timing, especially among women. It reviews consequences of delayed childbearing for individuals, couples, their children and society and discusses the limited role of assisted reproduction in offsetting the age-related rise in infertility. The individual social and economic advantages of late parenthood may outweigh the biological advantage of early parenthood. In conclusion, I outline possible policy actions that may support childbearing decisions at both younger and older reproductive ages. Such policies should recognise wide heterogeneity in needs and lifestyle preferences of individuals and should not explicitly aim to encourage early parenthood.

Article Details

Author Biography

Tomáš Sobotka, Vienna Institute of Demography

Tomáš Sobotka is Research Scientist at the Vienna Institute of Demography (Austrian Academy of Sciences) and managing editor of the Vienna Yearbook of Population Research. His research deals mainly with fertility trends in the developed world. His work focuses especially on the postponement of childbearing, fertility, changes in family and living arrangements, childlessness, fertility intentions and assisted reproduction.


Adsera, Alicia (2004): Changing fertility rates in developed countries. The impact of labour

market institutions. In: Journal of Population Economics. Vol. 17 (1/2004), 1-27.

Avramov, Dragana / Robert Cliquet (2003): Economy of time and population policy.

Rethinking the 20th Century life course paradigm. In: Zeitschrift für

Bevölkerungswissenschaft. Vol. 28 (2 - 4/2003), 369-402.

Beets, Gijs / Edith Dourleijn / Aart C. Liefbroer / Kène Henkens (2001): De timing van het

eerste kind in Nederland en Europa. Raport No. 59, NIDI, Den Haag.

Billari, Francesco C. / Kohler, Hans - Peter (2004): Patterns of low and very low fertility in

Europe. In: Population Studies. Vol. 58 (2/2004), 161-176.

Blossfeld, Hans-Peter / Huinink, Johannes (1991): Human capital investments or norms of role

transition? How women’s schooling and career affect the process of family formation. In:

American Journal of Sociology. Vol. 97 (1/1991), 143-168.

Bongaarts, John / Feeney, Griffith (1998): On the quantum and tempo of fertility. In:

Population and Development Review. Vol. 24 (2/1998), 271-291.

CDC (2007): Assisted reproductive technology success rates 2005. U.S. Department of

Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta.

Coleman, David A. (2000): Male fertility trends in industrial countries: Theories in search of

some evidence. In: Caroline Bledsoe / Susanna Lerner / Jane. I. Guyer (eds.) Fertility and the

male life - cycle in the era of fertility decline. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 29-60.

Cooney, Teresa M. / Pedersen, Frank A. / Indelicato, Samuel / Palkovitz, Rob (1993): Timing

of fatherhood: Is “on-time optimal?” In: Journal of Marriage and the Family. No. 55, 205-215.

Council of Europe (2006): Recent demographic developments in Europe 2005. Strasbourg:

Council of Europe Publishing.

De Cooman, Eric / Ermisch, John F. / Joshi, Heather (1987): “The next birth and the labour

market: A dynamic model of births in England and Wales”. In: Population Studies. Vol. 41

(2/1987), 237 - 268.

De Graaf, A. 2008. “Vruchtbaarheid in de twintigste eeuw” [Fertility in the 20th Century]. Bevolkingstrends, 1/ 2008: 14-22.

ESHRE (2005): Fertility and ageing. ESHRE Capri Workshop Group. In: Human

Reproduction Update. Vol. 11 (3/2005), 261-276.

Eurostat (2008 / 2009): Population and Social Conditions. Online database of Eurostat Viewed May 2008 and March 2009.

Fergusson, David M. / Woodward, Lianne J. (1999): Maternal age and educational and

psychological outcomes in early adulthood. In: Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

Vol. 43 (3/1999), 479-489.

Garrison, M.E. / Blalock, Lydia, B. / Zarski, John, J. / Merritt, Penny, B. (1997): Delayed

parenthood: An exploratory study of family functioning. In: Family Relations. Vol.

(3/1997), 281-290.

Gilbert, William M./ Nesbitt, Thomas S. / Danielsen, Beate (1999): Childbearing beyond age

: Pregnancy outcome in 24,032 cases. Obstetrics and Gynecology. Vol. 93 (1/1999), 9-14.

Goldin, Claudia / Katz, Lawrence F. (2002): The power of the pill: Oral contraceptives and

women’s career and marriage decisions. In: The Journal of Political Economy. Vol.

(4/2002), 730-770.

Heuveline, Patrick / Timberlake, Jeffrey, M. / Furstenberg Jr., Frank, F. (2003): Shifting

childrearing to single mothers: Results from 17 Western countries. In: Population and

Development Review. Vol. 29 (1/2003), 47-71.

Joshi, Heather (2002): Production, reproduction and education: Women, children and work in

a British perspective. In: Population and Development Review. Vol. 28 (3/2002), 445-474.

Kohler, Hans - Peter; Billari, Francesco C. / Ortega, José Antonio (2002): The emergence of

lowest - low fertility in Europe during the 1990s. In: Population and Development Review.

Vol. 28 (4/2002), 641-680.

Kühnert, Bianca / Nieschlag, Eberhard (2004): Reproductive functions of the ageing male. In:

Human Reproduction Update. Vol. 10 (4/2004), 327-339.

Lappegård, Trude / Rønsen, Marit (2005): The multifaceted impact of education on entry into

motherhood. In: European Journal of Population. Vol 21 (1/2005), 31-49.

Lee, Ronald D / Goldstein, Joshua (2003): Rescaling the life cycle. Longevity and

proportionality. In: J.R. Carey and S. Tuljapurkar (eds.) Life span. Evolutionary, ecological

and demographic perspectives. Supplement to: Population and Development Review. No. 29,


Leridon, Henri (2008): A new estimate of permanent sterility by age: Sterility defined as the

inability to conceive. In: Population Studies. Vol. 62 (1/2008), 15–24.

Leridon, Henri (2004): Can assisted reproduction technology compensate for the natural

decline in fertility with age? A model assessment. In: Human Reproduction. Vol. 19 (7/2004),


Liefbroer, Aart C. (2005): The impact of perceived costs and rewards of childbearing on entry

into parenthood: evidence from a panel study. In: European Journal of Population. Vol.

(4/2005), 367-391.

Lochhead, Clarence (2005) Growing disparities among first - time parents: 1971 - 1996. In:

Health Policy Research Bulletin, 10 / 2005, Health Canada, 11-14.

Lutz, Wolfgang / Skirbekk, Vegard (2005): Policies addressing the tempo effect in low

fertility countries. In: Population and Development Review. Vol. 31 (4/2005), 699-720.

Lutz, Wolfgang / Skirbekk, Vegard / Testa, Maria Rita (2006): The low fertility trap

hypothesis. Forces that may lead to further postponement and fewer births in Europe. Vienna

Yearbook of Population Research 2006, 167-192.

McLanahan, Sara (2004): Diverging destinies: How children are faring under the second

demographic transition? In: Demography. Vol. 41 (4/2004), 607-627.

Meron, Monique / Widmer, Isabelle (2002): Unemployment leads women to postpone the

birth of their first child. In: Population - E 2002. Vol. 57 (2/2002), 301-330.

Miller, Amalia R. (2008): Motherhood delay and the human capital of the next generation.

Available at SSRN:

Mills, Melinda / Blossfeld, Hans-Peter (2005): Globalization, uncertainty and the early life

course: A theoretical framework. In: Blossfeld, Hans-Peter et al. (eds.): Globalization,

uncertainty and youth in society. London: Routledge, 1-24.

Mirowsky, John (2005): Age at first birth, health, and mortality. In: Journal of Health and

Social Behaviour. No. 46, 32-50.

Nowak, Rachel (2007): Egg freezing: A reproductive revolution. In: New Scientist. 21 March

, 8-9.

Presser, Harriet B. (2001): Comment: A gender perspective for understanding low fertility in

post - transitional societies. In: Bulatao, R. A., Casterline, J. B. (eds.): Global fertility transition,

supplement to Population and Development Review 27. New York, Population Council, 177-183.

Ravanera, Zenaida R. / Rajulton, Fernando (2004): Social status polarization in the timing and

trajectories to motherhood. Discussion Paper 04-06, Population Studies Centre, University of

Western Ontario, London. - 06.pdf.

Rendall, Michael S. / Smallwood, Steve (2003): Higher qualifications, first-birth timing, and

further childbearing in Englands and Wales. Population Trends 111 (Spring 2003), 18-26.

Rindfuss, Ronald R. (1991): The young adult years: Diversity, structural change, and fertility.

In: Demography. Vol. 28 (4/1991), 493-512.

Rindfuss, Ronald R. / Brauner-Otto, Sarah R. (2008): Policies, institutions, and the transition

to adulthood: Implications for fertility tempo in low fertility settings. Forthcoming in Vienna

Yearbook of Population Research 2008. Still Forthcoming.

de la Rochebrochard, Élise / Thonneau, Patrick (2002): Paternal age and maternal age are risk

factors for miscarriage: Results from a multicentre European study. In: Human Reproduction.

Vol. 17 (6/2002), 1649-1656.

Saha, Sukanta / Barnett, Adrian G. / Foldi, Claire / Burne, Thomas H. / Eyles, Darryl W. / Buka,

Stephen L. / McGrath, John J. (2009): Advanced paternal age is associated with impaired

neurocognitive outcomes during infancy and childhood. PLoS Medicine. Vol. 6 (3/2009),

e1000040, 1-9.

Sobotka, Tomáš (2004): Postponement of childbearing and low fertility in Europe. PhD

Thesis, University of Groningen. Amsterdam: Dutch University Press.

Stein, Zena/ Susser, Mervyn (2000): The risks of having children later in life. BMJ 320, 24

June 2000, 1681-1682.

Toulemon, Laurent / Lapierre-Adamcyk, Évelyne (2000): Demographic patterns of

motherhood and fatherhood in France. In: C. Bledsoe, S. Lerner, and J.I. Guyer (eds.):

Fertility and the male life - cycle in the era of fertility decline. Oxford: Oxford University

Press, 293 - 330.

VID. (2008): European demographic data sheet 2008. Vienna Institute of Demography,

IIASA, Population Reference Bureau. Accessible at