Are women actually postponing having kids?

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Written by Danielle Johns

Recently, the New York Times published a piece examining why women are delaying motherhood. This got us thinking – does the healthcare data actually show women are postponing having kids?  

Birth rates are declining 

We know birth rates have been on a steady decline. In fact, when we looked at the emerging healthcare trends for 2021, one thing we noticed for this year was a decline in birth rates.  

Our medical claims data show diagnoses for pregnancy are down 145% from 2016 compared to 2020.  

Now you might want to blame COVID-19 for the drop in pregnancies in 2020. However, that’s not the sole driver as pregnancy claims have been declining steadily since 2018.  

So, we know the birth rate is declining. But are people pushing off having children until they’re older?  

Our medical claims data seems to suggest yes. 

The average age of patients giving birth increased from 28 to 29 years old 

First off, the average age of patients giving birth has increased by a whole year since 2017. According to our claims data, in 2017 the average age for a mother was 28.58. It rose to 29.57 in 2021.   

The fact that the average has gone up a whole year suggests that women are delaying having children.  

The data shows that the delay can be attributed to a decline in younger women having kids and an increase in older women having them.  

Let’s take a closer look at births by age group: 

A steady decline in women under 25 giving birth 

Since 2017, we’ve seen a steady decline year-over-year in women under 25 giving birth.  

In 2017, patients under 25 years old accounted for 27% of all birth procedures. In 2021, the share has dropped to 21.2%. That’s a 5.8% drop over the last five years. 

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  

Since the 1990s, national efforts have been underway to lower the teen birth rate for those between the ages of 15-19. According to the CDC, the teen birth rate has dropped 64% between 1991 and 2015. Since this group falls in the under 25 bracket, these efforts likely contributed to the overall decline. 

Expanded access to contraceptives and fewer unintended pregnancies, coupled with the economic costs of raising a child and a woman’s desire to focus on her education or career, are likely other factors contributing to the decline.  

Women aged 25-35 make up the lion’s share of women giving birth 

Women in the 25-35 age bracket make up the majority of all birth procedures. Since 2017, we’ve seen steady gains with this age bracket. 

In 2017, patients between 25-35 accounted for 59.8% of all birth procedures. That increased to 62.4% in 2021 – a 2.6% increase over the last five years.  

The steady increase in this age bracket does seem to suggest that more women are waiting until they’re in their late twenties or early thirties to have kids, pushing up the overall average age.  

Part of the reason for the steady increase in this bracket is women may be waiting until they’re more established in their careers or financially stable to start their family. This seems increasingly likely as child care costs continue to rise.  

More women in the 36-45 age bracket are also having kids 

Another factor that has pushed the average age of mothers up is the small but steady gains in women who are age 36-45 giving birth.  

While women in this age bracket accounted for 13% of all birth procedures in 2017, that number has slowly increased to 16.2% in 2021.  

More fertility options help give women more freedom to start families later in life if they so choose, helping to make this age bracket take up a slightly larger share of all births.  

Women have more options than ever before on when they want to start a family  

Yes, the average age of women giving birth is increasing. Yes, birth rates are declining. Whether these trends will continue in the long-term is unknown. But one thing is abundantly clear:  

Women have more control and options than ever before on when they want to have a family. And that, ultimately, is a good thing. 

Want to see how these birth trends continue to develop over time? Sign up for a free trial to see how we can provide you with the healthcare commercial intelligence to navigate the changing healthcare market.  

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