Parenting Capacity Similar in Older Versus Younger Mothers


NEW ORLEANS — Women who become mothers in their 50s with egg donation are no less able to handle the physical and mental demands of parenting compared with their younger counterparts, according to a study presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

“We jumped to some conclusions in the past that weren't necessarily correct about older women's reduced parenting capabilities,” said the study's lead investigator, Dr. Anne Z. Steiner of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Her study surveyed women in their 50s who had conceived and delivered after egg donation and matched them to an equal number of women in their 40s and 30s who also had conceived and delivered following in vitro fertilization. The 64 respondents (18 in their 50s, 24 in their 40s, and 22 in their 30s) had children aged 3 or 4 years old at the time of the study.

The surveys covered issues of parenting stress, using the Parenting Stress Index/Short Form questionnaire. Physical and mental function also were assessed, along with information on demographics, family structure, and child care, to determine a measure of “total parenting stress.”

Overall, the study found no significant difference in physical or mental function or parental stress between the older women and their younger counterparts. Women in their 50s had a nonsignificantly lower physical function score compared with women in their 30s (55 vs. 57), but all scores were higher than the average national female score (49), said Dr. Steiner. Mental function scores were slightly higher for women in their 50s compared with women in their 30s (54 vs. 50), but again, this difference was not significant. Adjustments for race, employment status, use of child care services, age and health of the child, gestational order, and family income did not alter the findings.

“To our knowledge this is the first study to evaluate parenting in women who conceive after age 50,” wrote the study's authors. “Our data do not support the hypothesis that mothers of advanced maternal age have reduced parenting capacity.”

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