Between 1970 and 2006, the number of women who were age 35 or older when giving birth to their first child increased nearly eight times. There are a variety of factors involved with this, including advanced fertility assistance techniques. However, a study led by Thomas Perls of Boston University School of Medicine has indicated that a natural ability to have children later in life are more likely to live to be 95 or older. The results of the study were published in the journal Menopause: The Journal of the North American Menopause Society.
The study was in partnership with the Long Life Family Study, which analyzes the genetics and other factors of people with exceptional longevity. This study analyzed 551 families and found out that women who were naturally able to bear children past the age of 33 were twice as likely to live to be 95 years old than women who stopped bearing children before age 30.
"Of course this does not mean women should wait to have children at older ages in order to improve their own chances of living longer," Perls said in a press release. "The age at last childbirth can be a rate of aging indicator. The natural ability to have a child at an older age likely indicates that a woman's reproductive system is aging slowly, and therefore so is the rest of her body.”
The researchers speculate that the reason is genetic. Certain genes have variants which regulate the effects of aging. While that may indeed be why these women are reproductively fit longer, it may also extend to other age-related processes, allowing the women to live longer.
"If a woman has those variants, she is able to reproduce and bear children for a longer period of time, increasing her chances of passing down those genes to the next generation," Perls continued. He believes that this may be a factor in why 85 percent of people who live to be 100 are women, and only 15 percent are men.
However, the researchers did find one catch: this link only applied to women with three children or fewer. Having four or more children, even at an older age, did not correlate with the extended longevity.
There are certain risk factors associated with advanced maternal age, including increased risk of preterm birth, fetal chromosomal abnormalities such as Down’s syndrome, hypertension, and gestational diabetes.
[Header image “pregnant woman” by Teza Harinaivo Ramiandrisoa via flickr, used in accordance with CC BY-SA 2.0]