updated 12/17/2003 5:06:03 PM ET 2003-12-17T22:06:03

The average age at which American women are having their first child has climbed to an all-time high of 25.1, the government said Wednesday.

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The rise reflects a drop in teen births and an increase in the number of women who are putting off motherhood until their 30s and 40s.

The age of first-time American moms has risen steadily during the past three decades, from an average of 21.4 in 1970. The latest figure, for 2002, was released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Women contemplating motherhood “are more likely to wait,” said CDC statistician Joyce Martin. “It’s good overall for infant health, because birth outcomes for teen moms are problematic.”

The teen birth rate has dropped 30 percent in the past decade to a historic low of 43 births per 1,000 women in 2002. The CDC also said births among women ages 20 and 24 had dropped to 104 per 1,000 women, from a high of 109.7 in 2000.

Fewer teen pregnancies
The government attributed the drop in the teen birth rate to health campaigns by public and private agencies that discourage teen pregnancies and promote abstinence.

The overall birth rates among women 35 to 39 (41 births per 1,000 women) and those ages 40 to 44 (8 per 1,000) were at the highest levels for those age groups in three decades.

“It’s certainly reflective of continued postponement of childbearing,” Martin said. “But there are some health consequences — older moms are at risk of multiple births, which have a risk of poorer outcomes” such as being born with low birthweight.

The rate of triplets and larger multiple births dropped to 184 births per 100,000 deliveries in 2002 from 185.6 in 2001. That is the third decline in the past four years.

Such births climbed more than 400 percent between 1980 and 1998, largely because of fertility treatments used by older women. Such treatments can raise the odds of multiple births.

Among black teens, the birth rate dropped by more than 40 percent from 114.8 births per 1,000 women in 1991 to 66.6 per 1,000 in 2002. The rate for black teens 15 to 17 dropped by more than half from 83.6 births per 1,000 women in 1991 to 40 per 1,000 in 2002.

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