Academic journal article Family Relations

Delayed Parenthood: An Exploratory Study of Family Functioning

Academic journal article Family Relations

Delayed Parenthood: An Exploratory Study of Family Functioning

Article excerpt

Delayed Parenthood: An Exploratory Study of Family Functioning*

M. E. Betsy Garrison**, Lydia B. Blalock, John J. Zarski, and Penny B. Merritt

The purpose of this exploratory study was to investigate the lives of families who delayed parenthood. Sixty-nine families who had their first child after the age of 35 completed standardized instruments that assessed marital satisfaction, parental stress, and family functioning. Some differences were found both between the scores of delayed parents and the nonclinical normative scores and between men and women within a group of delayed parents. The findings of the present study suggest that families who delayed parenthood are more similar than different from other families and that within a group of delayed parents mothers are more alike than different from fathers.

Key Words: delayed parenthood, family fuctioning, gender differences, late childbearing, marital satisfaction, parenting stress

Along with identity and intimacy, generativity or becoming a parent is considered one of the three fundamental expectations of adulthood (Erikson, 1968). Adults of all ages decide to become parents for a variety of reasons. Daniels and Weingarten (1982) articulated five strategies of birth-timing decisions: natural ideal, brief wait, programmatic postponement, mixed script, and unformed. May (1982) identified three factors that contribute to first-time fathers' readiness for parenthood: (a) a sense of stability in the couple relationship, (b) relative financial security, and (c) a sense of closure to the childless part of the couple relationship.

Whatever the reason or factors that individual couples use to decide the timing of childbearing, there has been a growing trend for couples to delay parenthood in the past two decades. Many reasons account for this trend, but three primary factors cited in the literature are educational attainment, economic stability, and careers, particularly for women (Baldwin & Nord, 1984; Blossfeld & Jaenichen, 1992; Schlesinger & Schlesinger, 1989; Wilkie, 1981). Another factor would be changes in women's fertility decisions (Mosher & Pratt, 1990; O'Connell, 1992).

In 1993, women aged 30-34 years accounted for one in five first births and women aged 35 years and older accounted for 1 in 18 first births; these are substantial increases when compared to the 1970 ratios of 1 in 25 and 1 in 101 respectively (Ventura, 1993; Ventura, Martin, Taffel, Matthews, & Clarke, 1995). In 1993, the peak childbearing years for women were ages 20-29 years (Ventura et al., 1995).

By 1990, it had become clear that the major changes in fertility over the entire decade of the eighties were the result of very substantial increases in first-birth rates for women in their thirties (Ventura, 1993). From 1980 to 1990, there was a 66% increase in the first-birth rate for women aged 30-34 years and a 158% increase for women 35-39 years (National Center for Health Statistics, 1993). By 1990, the first-birth rate had risen to 21.2 for women aged 30-34 years; to 6.7 for women aged 35-39 years; and to 1.0 for women aged 40-44 years. In that same year, the first-birth rate for women aged 20-24 years had decreased very slightly from the 1980 rate to 55.2; while the rate for women aged 25-29 had increased to 44.1.

Overall, first-birth rates for women 30-44 years have continued to increase in the 1990s (Ventura et al., 1995). By 1993, the first-birth rate had increased to 21.7 for women aged 30-34 years; to 7.1 for women aged 35-39 years; and, to 1.2 for women aged 40-44 years. However, the annual increases (2-6%) in the firstbirth rates for women in their thirties were substantially smaller from 1990 through 1993 than those observed in the previous 1015 year period.

Although data on the first-birth rates for men have not been collected in national surveys, the data on total birth rates indicate that age of first fatherhood has increased along with that of first motherhood. …

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