Late childbearing among baby boom cohorts: An exploratory study of delayed motherhood within a developmental and social framework

Elizabeth Apfel Sanderson, Fordham University


Late childbearing is occurring primarily among baby boom cohorts, who came of age in the midst of changing sex roles, social and civil unrest and a climate of sexual permissiveness. The social and historical circumstances from which the baby boom generation derives its character need to be integrated into theories on the meaning and impact of parenthood at different stages of adult development. The purpose of the study was to explore why baby boom cohorts are delaying childbearing in their 20s, what motivates them to pursue parenting in their 30s, and how their childbearing patterns and motives differ from those described in the literature. The meanings associated with motherhood were studied within the context of the social-historical and psychodevelopmental issues that are relevant to late childbearing. The goals of the study were achieved through in-depth interviews with 12 pregnant, career-oriented, married subjects between the ages of 30 and 40. Through content analysis of the interviews, data were identified, documented, and sorted into conceptual categories involving the impact of development, social-historical influences, and career issues on childbearing. The key findings were: (1) Childbearing was delayed during the twenties in order to resolve developmental issues around identity, autonomy, and intimacy rather than for career-related reasons. (2) Identity issues needed to be resolved before women could make commitments to careers, marriage, or motherhood. (3) Women's struggles to separate and differentiate themselves from their mothers was a central component in the tasks of identity, autonomy, and intimacy resolution. (4) For baby boom cohorts, the decision to postpone marriage and childbearing evolved from and was supported by the social and historical climate of the 1960s. (5) Late childbearing motives were linked to developmental issues around achieving generativity and symbolic immortality. These findings suggest that developmental theory must take cohort into account in studying adulthood. Furthermore, the experience of women and their differences from men in resolving developmental issues need to be integrated into theories of adult development. Finally, for clinicians the findings offer a developmental framework in which to understand women's ambivalence toward making commitments to career, marriage, and motherhood.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology|Womens studies|Social psychology

Recommended Citation

Sanderson, Elizabeth Apfel, "Late childbearing among baby boom cohorts: An exploratory study of delayed motherhood within a developmental and social framework" (1989). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8918458.