Women in the U.S. are waiting longer than ever to start having children.
older mom with newborn baby
Credit: Nataly Dauer/Shutterstock

I was 32 when I had my first baby. Ancient, according to a recent study that puts the median age for first-time moms in the U.S. at around 26.

Still, according to the research, women are waiting longer than ever to have kids. The study revealed the average age to procreate for the first time has increased by five years since 1970, with a big jump in the last 15 years, from 24.9 in 2000 to 26.3 today.

"It doesn't sound like a big change," says T.J. Mathews, a demographer at the National Center for Health Statistics and an author of the report. But, Mathews added, this seemingly small shift underscores some important trends.

For starters, researchers found the increase occured across all states and all races and ethnicities. The average age increased half a year for moms of Cuban descent, for example, and by about two years for non-Hispanic black moms.

There's also been a drop in the number of teen moms over the past 15 years. Researchers found the number of first-time mothers younger than 20 fell from 23 percent to 13 percent, and according to Bill Albert of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, the overall teen pregnancy rate has halved since its peak in 1990, declining in all 50 states and among all racial and ethnic groups.

Albert called the drop "one of the nation's great unheralded success stories of the past two decades," and chalked it up to a mix of factors, including government investment in sex ed programs, an increase in teen contraception, and television shows like 16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom, which have been known to scare kids out of having unprotected sex.

What is not causing the drop in teen moms is an increase in the amount of teen abortions. According to the study, that rate has also decreased over the last 15 years.

Meanwhile, the number of first-time moms who are older than 35 has also increased, with the proportion of first-time births to women older than 30 and 35 each seeing an uptick of a few percentage points. But even though these older mothers contributed to the rise in the average age of first-time moms, researchers said it was the decline in births to teen moms that was more influential.

Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer, blogger, and a mom. Check out her website holleeactmanbecker.com for more, and follow her on Twitter at @holleewoodworld.