The number of mothers who give birth with more than 40 years doubles in a decade in Spain
A pregnant woman.
A pregnant woman.Getty

Noelia de la Flor became a mother in June of last year. After a fertility treatment that lasted two years, at 49 she gave birth to Alejandro and Álvaro, twins. “I had them late because I hadn’t found financial or partner stability,” she says by phone from Valencia. Like De la Flor, many other women are increasingly delaying the decision to have children. This is reflected in the provisional data from the National Statistics Institute (INE), published this Wednesday: in 2021, the average age of motherhood stood at 32.6, three tenths more than in the previous year. The percentage of mothers like De la Flor, over 40 years old, has doubled in the last decade: from 5.5% to 10.7%. Thus, one in ten new Spanish mothers is over 40 years old.

De la Flor considers himself a very “active” person, both in his personal and professional life. This caused her to postpone his pregnancy. she worked in marketing and constantly changed positions. “I had not found stability. In addition, I have prioritized work a lot, improving professionally, before having a family”, he relates. Added to that professional ambition was the fact that he did not have a stable partner. It wasn’t until she was 47 that she met her husband. “She was late, late…”, she says. “But when you get older you realize that you’re on the edge, it’s like I’ll do it now or I’ll never do it,” she says.

What De la Flor tells is part of a trend that has been accumulating for many years, according to the demographers consulted. In fact, Spain is the second country in the EU where fewer children are had and they arrive later. For Albert Esteve, demographer and researcher, the reasons why women do not have children change over the years: “Before the age of 30, the reasons are personal. The girls want to travel, study, learn, live other experiences. From the age of 30, the reasons are economic and social”, such as job insecurity, low wages, or not having a partner. “From the age of 40, when it seems that the decision has been made and the economic and social issues have been solved, the biological problems arrive. At that age, people who cannot get pregnant are concentrated, ”he develops.

De la Flor underwent fertility treatment that lasted two years, from September 2019 to June 2021, when the little ones were finally born. She did it at the Valencian Institute of Infertility (IVI). Before pregnancy, she endured two unsuccessful attempts. In total, the process cost her about 12,000 euros, she says. Any pregnancy over 40 years of age is considered a risky pregnancy. “In my case, an embryo was implanted and it split instantly, so it was a double-risk pregnancy,” she says. “But I was lucky not to have any complications.”

The story narrated by de la Flor is atypical. “It is difficult to get pregnant when you are over 40 years old. If you succeed, it is very unlikely that a second or third child will arrive,” says Esteve. The delay in the average age of motherhood affects the fertility indicator or average number of children per woman which, according to the latest data from the INE, remained stable between 2020 and 2021: 1.19 children per mother. “It has remained stable because in 2020 they were postponed a lot. But, in 2022, or 2023, we will return to the usual path: a sustained drop in births, a sustained and rapid increase in deaths, and a slow but slight increase in the age at first child, ”she points out.

What did decrease in 2021, by 1.3%, was the number of births, a figure that has been falling continuously since 2015: last year there were 4,504 fewer births than in 2020. Esteve warns that the effects of the pandemic on fertility will continue to be felt for years to come. “During covid, couples determined to have children interrupted the decision; people who were going to be emancipated could not do it; and many people who would have met did not meet, ”she develops. Thus, she assures, many of the children who were born in the spring of 2021 would have to have been born at the end of 2020, and their mothers were a few months older than they would have been if the covid had not existed. It is, he summarizes, a “generalized postponement of the decision” to have children, whose consequences are yet to be seen.

Given this scenario, Diego Ramiro, director of the Institute of Economy, Geography and Demography of the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), states that “the number of couples who end up without children is increasing.” For him, it is a worrying fact: “We will have to contemplate it in the future, because these couples will reach old age without children and, as the woman lives longer than the man, there will be many living alone in old age.”

biological barriers

Waiting is a complication when it comes to having children. From the age of 35, according to the gynecologist Luis Rodríguez-Tabernero, the fertility of women begins to decline. “In a woman, age is the factor that most determines fertility. It’s harder to get pregnant and easier to lose it,” he notes. “The ovules are generated when the woman is an embryo in her mother’s gut, and they are exposed to everything. What you eat, what you drink, what you smoke. The older she is, the worse quality her eggs and embryos are, ”she develops. For this reason, Rodríguez-Tabernero recommends “saving the eggs”: “If you are 32, 34, 35 and, for whatever reason, you cannot consider having a child, save the eggs, so that you can be a mother tomorrow.”

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