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FAMILY

Why Swedish mums are having children later in life

For Swedish mums, it is now more common to have a child after 45 years of age than as a teenager.

Why Swedish mums are having children later in life
Mother holds a newborn baby's hand. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

In 2022, 410 children were born to mothers aged 19 or younger, according to number crunchers Statistics Sweden. Meanwhile, 537 children were born to mothers aged 45 or older – the first year in which older mothers outnumbered their teenaged counterparts.

This upward trend began with the introduction of birth control pills in the 1960s, which allowed women greater control over their fertility and family planning.

Access to abortion and Sweden’s shift from an agricultural society to an industrialised one also bolstered the upward demographic trend for maternal age. In 1968, nearly 9,000 babies were born to teen mums, a number that has shrunk significantly over the decades.

This trend is not limited to Sweden. Across the Nordics, parents are waiting longer to have children.

“The upper limit is not as ‘fixed’ anymore,” Gunnar Andersson, a professor of demography at Stockholm University, told Swedish news agency TT. “Previously, there was perhaps an occasional 49-year-old. But with the new treatment methods, children are born to mothers at ages where it was not biologically possible before.”

IVF treatments were introduced in Sweden in the late 1970s, with the first Nordic IVF baby born in 1982 in Gothenburg. Today, both childless couples and single women without children in Sweden can apply for up to three free rounds of IVF at public hospitals.

This publicly-funded treatment for single women and single transgender men who can still reproduce is only available to Swedish citizens or permanent residence holders, according to the Karolinska University Hospital.

And while there are health risks associated with pregnancy at higher ages, overall, it seems that having an older mum can pay off for the children, who tend to born into better socio-economic conditions.

Delaying starting a family allows parents to focus on their education and on establishing their careers and livelihoods, Andersson said.

But sometimes, life happens.

“It may be that you do not find a suitable partner until you are a little older, or have a new relationship,” Andersson said. “You don’t plan to wait to have children until you’re 45.”

But even if the choice to have a baby until later in life is not a deliberate choice, for the child, having an older mum can be a positive thing.

“Children born to slightly older mothers are often better prepared than children born to very young mothers,” Andersson says. “The mothers have better incomes, social resources with a larger network and greater personal maturity.”

Member comments

  1. Well if it’s just a personal choice, then very well respected. But if we have to wait till 45 to have a child for ‘better’ socioeconomic conditions then I think there’s a problem in our society and economy. We must address that.

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STATISTICS

Sweden’s population growth slowest in 22 years as fertility rate drops to record low

Sweden's fertility rate is at an all-time low, with experts warning that the working population could eventually start to shrink.

Sweden's population growth slowest in 22 years as fertility rate drops to record low

Sweden’s population grew by 30,200 people to 10.5 million last year, the smallest population increase in absolute terms since 2001, official statistics showed on Thursday, as the country has sought to curb immigration.

A combination of “a decrease in the number of births, a lower number of immigrations as well as a higher number of emigrations are the reasons for the lower population increase during 2023 compared to previous years,” Statistics Sweden said.

According to the agency, 94,500 people immigrated to Sweden last year, an eight percent decrease from the previous year, while 73,400 people emigrated from the country, a 45 percent increase.

The coalition government, led by Ulf Kristersson of the Moderate Party but relying on the support of the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats, has pledged to limit migration since coming to power in 2022.

Part of the explanation, however, is that the Swedish Tax Agency last year began a huge project to deregister several thousands of people who no longer live in Sweden from the population register. They are now formally in the books as having emigrated to an unknown country.

At the same time, the fertility rate in the Scandinavian country is at an all-time low, at 1.45 children per woman last year, according to the statistics agency. A total of 100,100 births were recorded last year.

Experts say that if the trend continues, the working population will eventually start to shrink, putting a strain on the country’s welfare system.

Nordic countries still have some of the highest fertility rates in Europe, according to Eurostat’s most recent data.

In 2021, Sweden’s fertility rate was 1.67 children per woman, above the EU average of 1.53 and significantly higher than countries in southern Europe such as Spain, which had a fertility rate of 1.19.

Those rates are well below the threshold of 2.1 that experts say is needed to maintain population levels.

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