More Say Yes to Motherhood

They’re waiting longer, but more women are having children—and family size is growing, too

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More Say Yes to Motherhood

When the school bell rings, signaling the end of the day, Julie Hayes Misarti becomes a woman in motion: Seven-year old son Aidan and 10-year-old daughter Francesca fly out the school door and into Misarti’s waiting arms. They pile into the car, and a coffee-fueled Misarti is underway—to the new family center where she volunteers in the Chicago suburbs, checking on the family home under restoration after a boiler malfunction, dropping Francesca at a play date, hopping over to Costco for party supplies, and making a pit stop at a park for their Shih Tzu-Yorkie, Olive.

It’s a crazed schedule, and Misarti, 49, wouldn’t have it any other way. She is used to being busy, having spent her 20s and 30s on the career fast track, meeting financial clients for her Chicago bank, with a whirlwind of travel for business and pleasure. And then, she stopped all that for motherhood at age 38.

“I wouldn’t trade it,” she says of her life today. She misses work, but adds, “I got so much traveling and freedom out of my system.”

She’s far from alone. Women like Misarti, who are having children later in life, are helping drive an increase in motherhood in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center. And according to U.S. Census Bureau data, the share of women in their early 40s who have ever given birth was higher in 2018 (85%) than it was in 1998 (81%), a notable development since childlessness began to rise in the mid-1970s.

85% of women ages 40 to 44 were mothers in 2018, compared with 81% in 1998

Not only did the researchers determine that women in their early 40s are more likely to be mothers than they were a decade ago, but they’re having more children, too. Overall, as of 2018, women ages 40-44 in the U.S. have 2.4 children during their lives on average—up from 1.86 in 2006, the lowest number on record. That’s despite the fact that annual birthrates in the years since the Great Recession have been in decline.

“It used to be the norm to have one baby in her early 20s,” says Gretchen Livingston, an expert on demography and family at the Pew Research Center. Partly influenced by the drop in teenagers having children, now only 39 percent of mothers at the end of their childbearing years had their first child by 24.

"It used to be the norm to have one baby in her early 20s."

Gretchen Livingston, Pew Research Center

ome other standout findings: significant increases in motherhood among unmarried women in their 40s and among highly educated women. Fifteen percent of all women in their early 40s have never married, and more than half of them have given birth to at least one child. That’s a dramatic jump from the mid-’90s, when about a third of never-married women in their early 40s had given birth. And 80% of U.S. women ages 40-44 with a doctorate or professional degree have given birth, compared to 65% in the mid-1990s.

“There has been much talk about a ‘baby bust’ in the media,” Livingston says. “That’s based on snapshots of birth data from points in time—which are influenced by economic shocks like the Great Recession and women delaying motherhood because of them.” But what this research has shown, she says, is that over their lifetimes, women are now more likely to become mothers than they were a decade ago. And some of that is due to women waiting to join the ranks of motherhood.

To learn more, read the 2018 Pew Research Center analysis, “They’re Waiting Longer, but U.S. Women Today More Likely to Have Children Than a Decade Ago.”

This is an abridged version of an article in Trust magazine written by Carol Kaufmann.