by: Elizabeth Gregory

Midlife moms have made headlines recently – because our ranks are growing fast, and so is the pool of midlife-moms-to-be, as lots of recession-shy ladies are holding off on babies for the time being – a formula for many midlife moms and babies down the line.  On the celebrity side, think Penelope Cruz, Carla Bruni, Mariah Carey, Tina Fey.  Lots of non-celeb ladies are also waiting til 35 and after to start or continue their families.  US births were down 4% overall between 2007 and 2009 – falling in all age groups except women 40 and over, for whom the rate rose 6%!  Here’s the illustration:

Births continued downward in 2010.  The overall decline is not exactly world changing, however, since we’re only falling back to the level we were at in 2004 — after a big birth rate rise based on a false sense of economic security in 2005-7.

The pattern of delay in evidence here suggests that the ladies are waiting til they feel ready – and in important measure that readiness seems to be defined in financial terms.  Women starting families in their 40s tend to have established at work first and to be better off.  But even if the economy is still less secure than they might like, by 40 or so it’s now or never for those who aim to form their families standard issue.

For trend trackers, the suspenseful part comes next – how long will those who put off having kids now wait before starting, or before having a second or third child?  Though about two thirds of women can have kids unassisted at 40, by 41 it’s only about 50%, and the likelihood falls fast thereafter.  So increasing numbers may be forming family through adoption or egg donation. And some will end up without kids, either regretfully or not.

But if they follow the trend of the last few years, many will be having children.  A study out this May heralded a “’Delayer Boom’ as More Educated Women Have Children Later.” Not exactly a surprise anymore.  Though they start off slower in the births department than their peers who invest less time in education, mothers with BA’s and more come close to catching up in terms of average number of kids (about 1.7) with women with a high school diploma or some college (about 1.9).  They all tend to have fewer kids than women with less than a high school diploma (2.5).

Here’s the chart:

Especially given the recessionary pattern over the past two years, it’s likely that the “delayer boom” will continue for a while yet.  And it may be followed by a “way delayer boom” if the number of egg donor babies born to women in their late 40s and early 50s keeps growing at the current clip.

Elizabeth Gregory is the author of Ready: Why Women Are Embracing the New Later Motherhood, the Director of the Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies Program at the University of Houston, and a new later mom to two girls.  She blogs about the politics and economics of motherhood and women’s work at www.domesticproduct.net