(JTA) — American Jewish women are giving birth later than other women, sometimes delaying childbearing into their late 30s or even 40s.
The much-discussed Pew Research Center survey of American Jews released this month found that Jews aged 40 to 59 have an average of 1.9 children, compared to 2.2 children per adult among the same-age cohort of the general public. According to the most recent National Jewish Population Survey, in 2000, Jewish women are substantially more likely to remain childless into their 30s and 40s than American women generally.
“The fertility gap between Jewish and all U.S. women narrows but is not eliminated in later childbearing age groups, indicating that Jewish women delay having children until later years, and then come close to, but do not match, fertility levels of all U.S. women,” the NJPS reported.
So how late can a woman get pregnant?
According to Lawrence Grunfeld, a reproductive endocrinologist and professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, recent studies by the American Society of Reproductive Medicine show that with donor eggs and a healthy mother, pregnancies can be viable through age 55.
“Fertility treatments have improved tremendously year by year,” Grunberg said.
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Pregnancy and childbirth after 35 — what doctors term “advanced maternal age” — can present a number of complications, foremost among them the difficulty of conception. After age 35, fertility in women decreases precipitously.
“In patients of advanced maternal age, many women have a decreased ovarian reserve,” said Ilana Ressler, a reproductive endocrinologist at New York Fertility Services.
“That means that the ovaries are producing fewer eggs. Women are born with a set number of eggs, and we have the most eggs we’ll ever have before we’re born. After a certain age, reserves are much lower.”