While the average age that women become mothers has been steadily increasing for quite some time, a new report in the New York Times reveals that geography and education are significant factors in when a woman has her first child — determinants that aren’t necessarily surprising, but are perhaps more influential than previously believed.
The analysis, conducted using data from the National Center for Health Statistics, shows that on average, first-time mothers are oldest in larger coastal cities, and youngest in rural areas, the Great Plains, and the South. For example, women in New York City and San Francisco on average have their first child at 31 and 32, respectively; in Todd County, South Dakota, the average age is 20. The national average age is 26, five years older than what it was in 1972.
The biggest factor, though, is college education, as the study shows that women without bachelor degrees have children an average of seven years before those who completed secondary education, which has become increasingly crucial to attaining a livable wage. This finding in particular is indicative of the nation’s severe inequality, as those with more wealth have more opportunities to fulfill goals before becoming parents, such as going to graduate school or starting a dream career.
“These education patterns do help drive inequality, because well-educated women are really pulling ahead of the pack by waiting to have kids,” Caroline Hartnett, a sociologist at the University of South Carolina, told the Times. “But if going to college and achieving an upper-middle-class lifestyle seems unattainable, then having a family might seem like the most accessible source of meaning to you.”