Research says children of older mothers are smarter, taller, and stronger

The risks of having children later in life are well documented: there’s a higher chance the baby will have issues at birth such as Down’s syndrome, or be more likely to develop autism and Alzheimer’s later in life. It’s also harder to get pregnant as time marches on.

But a study of more than 1.5 million Swedes shows there are some pretty big benefits as well.

The study conducted by Mikko Myrskyla, the director of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) and his colleague Kieron Barclay at the London School of Economics found that children of older mothers are healthier, taller and stay in formal education longer than the children of younger mothers.

The MPIDR-study shows that despite the risks associated with childbearing at older ages, which are attributable to aging of the reproductive system, these risks are either counterbalanced, or outweighed, by the positive changes to the environment in the period during which the mother delayed her childbearing.

Researchers used data from over 1.5 million Swedish men and women born between 1960 and 1991 and found that when mothers delayed childbearing to older ages, even as old as 40 or older, they had children who were taller, had better grades in high school, and were more likely to go to university.

“We need to develop a different perspective on advanced maternal age. Expectant parents are typically well aware of the risks associated with late pregnancy, but they are less aware of the positive effects” said Myrskyla.

The study is published in Population and Development Review.