Ages of women giving birth

In a previous blog post, I looked at the sizes of families and infant mortality across three generations of my tree.

This time I’ve examined the average age of women having their first child.

I’ve sampled 100 Irish women, whose age can be verified from a birth or baptismal record and compared the age each woman was having her first child. Most of these people come from my own family tree but I obtained a few additional examples from a friend (thanks Aileen!) Geographically, they come from Dublin, Wicklow, Carlow, Waterford, Limerick, Tipperary & Clare. That’s the spread of my ancestral counties. The Dublin and Limerick samples are mostly urban, whereas the rest are rural.

This is a picture of my grandparents’ 1948 marriage, which I’ve colourised using My Heritage’s tool. © Copyright of this picture remains with the Bradley family.

In nearly every case, the woman was already married, though several were expecting a baby when they got married. That topic deserves its own piece of research, but professional experience tells me that being pregnant before marriage was much much more common than the late Victorians would have us believe.

It’s also worth noting that I’ve left out examples where I have an official age at death on a cert which cannot be verified by other records. A ggg grandmother of mine from Carlow, Esther Walsh, was apparently 52 on her death in 1883, but this doesn’t really tally with her 1844 marriage or her first child born a month later, when she was allegedly 13. It’s not impossible that she was 13 but it’s not very likely. This birth, of course, puts her in the “pregnant before marriage” group I mentioned above.

The average age of giving birth to a first child across my whole sample was 27.1, but 25 was the most common, with 11 people, closely followed by 23 & 26 with 10 examples each.

The youngest woman was 16, a child by today’s standards, though she was already married, having her first baby in the 1870s. The oldest in my sample was 42, giving birth in the 1930s.

It’s worth pointing out here that Irish people have married later than other European countries. There might have been economic reasons for this, such as a man waiting until he got a farm and so could support a family. However, most of my examples here were urban, so this wouldn’t be relevant. You can look at the statistics for this on the website of the Central Statistics Office and the Historical Population data hosted by the University of Exeter. For earlier periods than I’ve covered here, I recommend an article by Michael Drake called Marriage and Population growth from 1750-1845, which you can access via Jstor.

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