The chances of having a bright child have turned around since the Seventies, when children of young mothers were smarter. The switch has come about over the past four decades as millions of women have put off early marriage and raising a family in favour of their own education and career.
Mothers who have their babies later in life are more likely to have clever children than those in their twenties.
As a result, older mothers now are likely to be better educated and wealthier than those who have babies at younger ages, and their children do better in intelligence tests. Their health is also better than it would have been for their age group in the Seventies.
Researchers from the London School of Economics and the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research said children born to women in their late thirties were likely to be a mother’s first child – and parents tend to lavish more attention on their firstborn.
The findings, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, covered 50,000 children in three national surveys of those born in 1958, 1970 and in 2001.
Their cognitive ability – the power to think, read, learn, remember and pay attention was recorded at ten and 11. Children born to mothers aged 25 to 29 in 1958 and 1970 did better in the tests than those of mothers aged 35 to 39. But for children born in 2001, the results were reversed. The average age of a new mother was 27 in the late Sixties. It is now 30.3, and women over 40 are more likely than teenage girls to have a baby.