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Study: Older mothers of pre-school children

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Women in their 40s who have pre-school children are still in the minority, but the phenomenon is not as uncommon as it was 20 years ago. The growth in the share of women with post-secondary education is an important factor in explaining their increased number.

The 2006 Census enumerated 1.3 million women aged 40 to 44 in Canada. Of these, about 117,100, or 8.9%, were mothers of at least one child under the age of 5. This was more than double the proportion of 4.3% in 1986.

The professional and economic situation of women aged 40 to 44 who have pre-school children is different from that of women in the same age group who had their children earlier. The occupations with the highest proportion of older mothers with pre-school kids were those that required a high level of skill and education, such as physicians, dentists, veterinarians, judges, lawyers and Quebec notaries.

More women have a university education. In Canada, the proportion of women aged 40 to 44 who have a university degree more than doubled in 20 years, climbing from 11% in 1986 to 23% in 2006. Statistics suggest that the higher this proportion, the more common childbearing will become for women in their 30s and 40s.

In 2006, 14% of women aged 40 to 44 who had a bachelor's degree were mothers of a young child, compared with 6% of women of the same age who had a high school diploma or less. For women who had a doctorate, the proportion was 20%.

About 30% of women aged 40 to 44 who had young children were in a "professional" occupation, that is an occupation that requires a bachelor's degree or higher.

Women who were health professionals in the 40-to-44 age group were particularly likely to have young children. In 2006, this was true of 25% of female specialist physicians, the highest proportion for an individual occupation in Canada.

In 2006, the median personal income of women aged 40 to 44 who did paid work and whose children were all under 5 years old was $33,700 after taxes. This was higher than the median personal income of $28,700 for those whose children were at least 12 years of age.

Women who were born in countries outside of Canada were more likely than Canadian-born women to have a university degree and to be older mothers of young children. In 2006, 32% of them had a university degree, compared with 19% of Canadian-born women. The proportion that had a pre-school child was also higher: 13% compared with 8% for Canadian-born women.

Note: This release is based on an analytical article in the September 2009 issue of Canadian Social Trends that profiles women in their 40s who have young children. Data came from the 1986 and 2006 censuses. People living in institutions or collective dwellings were excluded from this study.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 3901.

The article " Forty-year old mothers of pre-school children: A profile" is now available in the September 2009 issue of Canadian Social Trends, no. 88 (11-008-X, free), from the Publications module of our website.

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Client Services (613-951-5979;, Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division.