Is late childbirth advantageous to the offspring’s development?

YAO Yuan1 CHENG Cheng1

(1.Institute for Empirical Social Science Research, School of Sociology, Xi’an Jiaotong University)

【Abstract】In the process of industrialization, the marriage and childbirth ages are generally postponed. This trend is also increasingly significant in China. Examining the persistent influence of parents’ childbearing age on their offspring’s development has become a global research project. According to most studies, for the offspring whose parents’ childbearing age is late, their development is more advantaged, but the relevant assessment based on Chinese context still needs to be filled. Using the data from China Education Panel Survey, this paper systematically tests the relationship between them and has the following findings. Regarding most indicators, there is a clear inverse U-shaped curve relationship between the parents’ childbearing age and the offspring’s development condition in adolescence. For the offspring whose parents conceived them among 26–29 years old, they have the best development in multiple aspects (especially educational achievement) in adolescence; while for the offspring whose parents conceived them too early or too late, they are more likely to be disadvantaged in development environment and achievement. Several factors could partly explain the above disadvantaged situations, including offspring composition, parents’ social-economic status and family environment.

【Keywords】 parents’ childbearing age; development environment; academic performance; physical and mental health; adolescents;


【Funds】 The National Social Science Fund of China (17CSH064)

Download this article


    [1]. (1) The data are based on the sixth census in 2010. The census data also provide the childbearing ages of parents in different childbirth orders. In 2010, the average age when the married women aged 15–49 give birth to the first child is 25.94 years old, that when they give birth to the second child is 30.44 years old, and that when they give birth to the third child or more is 33.22 years old. While the data in the fifth census are: 24.33 years old, 28.56 years old and 30.44 years old. The data in the fourth census in 1990 is: 22.64 years old, 25.44 years old and 29.33 years old. It can be seen that the childbearing age of each child is generally moving backward. [^Back]

    [2]. (2) The identified social functioning includes the dimensions such as the number of friends, and participation in social organizations. [^Back]

    [3]. (3) Thanks for the numerous valuable suggestions on empirical analysis modules such as model and variable selection, and urban-rural survey from the anonymous assessment experts. [^Back]

    [4]. (4) Except for the 23–25 year-old group, other age groups and 26–29 year-old group all pass the significance test. [^Back]

    [5]. (5) Due to length limitation of this article, all results reflecting the influence of the father’s age when the mother is pregnant are deleted. Results are available upon request. [^Back]

    [6]. (6) Thanks for the suggestions from the reviewers, but due to length limitation, these forms are not shown in the text of the article. [^Back]


    Cheng, C. Sociological Studies (社会学研究), (6) (2017).

    Cheng, C., Wang, Y. & Yao, Y. Peking University Education Review (北京大学教育评论), (1) (2019).

    Gao, Y. & Wu, H. Population Research (人口研究), (5) (2012).

    Guo, Z. & Tian, S. Youth Studies (青年研究), (6) (2017).

    Li, J. & Wang, X. Journal of Social Sciences (社会科学), (3) (2014).

    Li, J., Wu, M. & Cao, R. Journal of Capital Normal University (Social Sciences Edition) (首都师范大学学报(社会科学版)), (2) (2018).

    Liang, Q. Tian, J. & Ji, H. Population Research (人口研究), (2) (2013).

    Liu, H. Population & Economics (人口与经济), (1) (2016).

    [US] Putnam, R. D. Our kids: The American Dream in Crisis. Beijing: China University of Political Science and Law Press, (2017)

    Song, J. & Zhou, Y. Population Research (人口研究), (5) (2016).

    Wang, P. & Wu, Y. Chinese Journal of Sociology (社会), (3) (2013).

    Wang, Z. et al. Chinese Journal of Contemporary Pediatrics (中国当代儿科杂志), (11) (2016).

    Wu, Y. Sociological Studies (社会学研究), (4) (2013).

    Wu, Y. Wang, P. & Du, S. Social Science in China (中国社会科学), (2) (2018).

    Yao, Y. & Zhang, S. Youth Studies (青年研究), (5) (2016).

    Yao, Y. & Zhang, S. Youth Studies (青年研究), (3) (2018).

    Yu, J. & Xie, Y. Population Research (人口研究), (2) (2017).

    Yuan, Y., Zhao, J. & Zhang, B. Chinese Journal of Clinical Psychology (中国临床心理学杂志), (3) (2009).

    Zheng, Z. Chinese Journal of Population Science (中国人口科学), (2) (2002).

    Addo, F. R., S. Sassler & K. Williams 2016, “Reexamining the Association of Maternal Age and Marital Status at First Birth with Youth Educational Attainment.” Journal of Marriage and Family 78 (5).

    Black, C. & R. R. DeBlassie 1985, “Adolescent Pregnancy: Contributing Factors, Consequences Treatment, and Plausible Solutions.” Adolescence 20 (78).

    Carolan, M. & D. Frankowska 2011, “Advanced Maternal Age and Adverse Perinatal Outcome: A Review of the Evidence.” Midwifery 27 (6).

    Carslake, D. et al. 2017, “Associations of Parental Age with Health and Social Factors in Adult Offspring. Methodological Pitfalls and Possibilities.” Scientific Reports 7.

    Coll, C. T. G., J. Hoffman & W. Oh 1987, “The Social Ecology and Early Parenting of Caucasian Adolescent Mothers.” Child Development 58.

    Culp, R. E. et al. 1988, “Adolescent and Older Mothers: Comparison between Prenatal Maternal Variables and Newborn Interaction Measures.” Infant Behavior and Development 11(3).

    Fergusson, D. M. & L. J. Woodward 1999, “Maternal Age and Educational and Psychosocial Outcomes in Early Adulthood.” The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines 40 (3).

    Fergusson, D. M. & M. T. Lynskey 1993, “Maternal Age and Cognitive and Behavioral Outcomes in Middle Childhood.” Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology 7 (1).

    Goisis, A. 2015, “How Are Children of Older Mothers Doing? Evidence from the United Kingdom.” Biodemography and Social Biology 61 (3).

    Goisis, A., D. C. Schneider & M. Myrskylä 2017, “The Reversing Association between Advanced Maternal Age and Child Cognitive Ability: Evidence from Three UK Birth Cohorts.” International Journal of Epidemiology 46 (3).

    Hechtman, L. 1989, “Teenage Mothers and Their Children: Risks and Problems: A Review.” The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 34 (6).

    Jacobsson, B., L. Ladfors & I. Milsom 2004, “Advanced Maternal Age and Adverse Perinatal Outcome.” Obstetrics & Gynecology 104 (4).

    Malaspina, D. et al. 2005, “Paternal Age and Intelligence: Implications for Age-related Genomic Changes in Male Germ Cells.” Psychiatric Genetics 15 (2).

    McCabe, J. M. 2016, Connecting in College: How Friendship Networks Matter for Academic and Social Success. University of Chicago Press.

    Mills, M. et al. 2011, “Why do People Postpone Parenthood? Reasons and Social Policy Incentives.” Human Reproduction Update 17 (6).

    Myrskylä, M., K. Barclay & A. Goisis 2017, “Advantages of Later Motherhood.” Der Gynäkologe 50 (10).

    Myrskylä, M. et al. 2013, “Is Later Better or Worse? Association of Advanced Parental Age with Offspring Cognitive Ability among Half a Million Young Swedish Men.” American Journal of Epidemiology 177 (7).

    Saha, S. et al. 2009, “Maternal Age and Paternal Age are Associated with Distinct Childhood Behavioral Outcomes in a General Population Birth Cohort.” Schizophrenia Research 115 (2–3).

    Shuey, K. M. & A. E. Willson 2014, “Economic Hardship in Childhood and Adult Health Trajectories: An Alternative Approach to Investigating Life-course Processes.” Advances in Life Course Research 22.

    Trillingsgaard, T. & D. Sommer 2018, “Associations between Older Maternal Age, Use of Sanctions, and Children’s Socio-emotional Development through 7, 11, and 15 Years.” European Journal of Developmental Psychology 15 (2).

    Weiser, M. et al. 2008, “Advanced Parental Age at Birth is Associated with Poorer Social Functioning in Adolescent Males: Shedding Light on a Core Symptom of Schizophrenia and Autism.” Schizophrenia Bulletin 34 (6).

This Article


CN: 11-3280/C

Vol , No. 05, Pages 12-24+94

September 2019


Article Outline


  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 Literature review
  • 3 Research design
  • 4 Empirical result
  • 5 Conclusion and discussion
  • Footnote