The average age of first time mothers increased by as many as 4-5 years by the end of 20th century throughout Europe and United States.
‘The delay in motherhood in 1960's among women could be attributed to the introduction of the contraceptive Pill. Educational enrollment only accounted for 6% of this delay.’
Studies in recent decades have suggested that among women in UK, motherhood was delayed largely because they want to go onto college or university to gain qualifications or fulfill educational aspirations before starting a family.
The new research from the University of Oxford in the UK and the Universities of Groningen and Wageningen in the Netherlands suggests that the role of education is much smaller in delaying motherhood than previously believed.
The researchers found that in the UK, a woman's family background was the major factor rather than education.
Researchers wanted to see how education influenced reproductive behavior.
The researchers tracked patterns of educational enrollment by using the nationally representative data from the Office of National Statistics for cohorts of women born in the UK between 1944 and 1967 and found that educational attainment for women also increased.
The researchers found that for every extra year of educational enrollment after the age of 12, a woman delayed motherhood by an average of six months.
Role of Family Background
The study found that the main influence on whether a woman postpones having children is largely associated with her family background.
Education contributes to only 1.5 months of the total six month delay in motherhood.
The other main factor that influences a woman's decision to have children is the family environment, a combination of a woman's social, economic and genetic factors.
Lead author Dr Felix Tropf, from the Department of Sociology at the University of Oxford, said "Our research casts doubt on previous studies that claim a strong link between educational expansion for women and the postponement of motherhood. We find that both education and a woman's fertility choices seem to be mostly influenced by her family background, instead of education influencing fertility behaviour directly. For example, families provide social and financial support, and pass on genes affecting reproductive behaviour."
"A large part of the observed association between education and age at first birth in other studies can actually be explained by the family environment. In isolation, education has a much smaller effect. We hope this important finding that a large part of the link between educational enrolment and fertility postponement is not causal but spurious may inform those forecasting future fertility trends or shaping family policy." Tropf added.
The delay of motherhood from the 1960s coincided with the introduction of the contraceptive Pill, notes the research.
Cohorts born after the 1960s postponed motherhood by around 2.7 years, on average, compared with women born at the end of the Second World War, but longer educational enrollment only accounts for 6% of this delay, says the research.
The findings are published in Demography