Thanks to a whole host of social, economic and cultural factors, women in much of the world – including the UK – are starting families later than ever. Last year, the number of older women (over 40) having babies overtook the number of younger women (20 and under) giving birth for the first time in 70 years, and the average age of first-time mothers in the UK is now 28.6, according to ONS data.
And this trend can be found across Europe – not just in the western European countries you might have expected. In the mid-1990s, there was a marked age gap between women in western Europe, southern Europe and eastern Europe, but this disparity has almost completely disappeared, The Economist reported.
Twenty or so years ago, women in western Europe (including France, Germany and Sweden) generally gave birth for the first time in their late 20s, while women in the south of the continent (Greece, Spain and Portugal) did so slightly earlier.
However, the picture was pretty different in post-communist eastern Europe. In countries such as Poland, Bulgaria and Romania, most women started families in their early 20s or teenage years, with very few over-30s becoming first-time mothers.
But this all changed in the following two decades, with the disparity between the regions disappearing almost completely. According to figures from Eurostat, women from southern and eastern Europe began following the example of western Europe and postponing childbirth.
One of the biggest factors behind this was the increased availability of contraception – which was seldom used before the 1990s due, at least in part, to religious reasons. Meanwhile, another cause was the appeal of university over marriage for many women – the proportion of women with degrees nearly tripled between 2002 and 2016, as The Economist highlights. (Maybe they heard that having a baby in your 30s has been linked to a longer life span, too?)
Not only do women across Europe now have babies later than they used to, they're also having fewer of them, with the average fertility rate across the continent now standing at between one and two.