Too old to parent?

By Rebecca Davis 7 October 2011

When Zsa Zsa Gabor's husband announced his intention for the Hungarian actress to bear his child earlier this year, the public response was one of horror: Gabor is 94. But the sight of older parents with young children is something we should all get used to. By REBECCA DAVIS.

In the west, the age of first motherhood keeps rising. In Italy, Germany and the UK, the average age at which women first give birth is now 30. In the US, it’s now 25. In South Africa statistics seem to suggest that the median age of first pregnancy is 21.

But particularly in the west, it’s now also increasingly common for women older than 50 to give birth. New York Magazine reported this weekend that in 2008, the year for which we have the most recent detailed statistics in the US, 8,000 babies were born to women 45 or older, and 541 were born to women older than 50. Two impregnation techniques are generally used: women may choose to freeze their own eggs while they are still fertile, for later use. Alternatively, a donor egg is procured from a younger woman, fertilised with a male partner’s sperm, and implanted in the womb.

The practice is highly controversial. In addition to the social stigma older parents face, they must also fend off accusations that the act is selfish. According to life expectancy estimates, a child born to two 50-year-old Americans will lose her father when she’s 25 and her mother when she’s 30. There are also health risks for the child which age amplifies: after 40, chances of having a child with autism increase by 30%.

Although moot, many argue that parents who have children later are likely to be wealthier – and this alone may give their offspring better opportunities than those born to younger parents. DM

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