Daughters of women who gave birth at age 30 or older are more likely to experience symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression as young adults, according to research published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.
This effect was not seen in sons, nor was the father’s age linked to the daughters’ symptoms.
Jessica Tearne, a doctoral student at the University of Western Australia, and colleagues analyzed data from the Western Australian Pregnancy Cohort (Raine) Study, in which pregnant women were recruited from 1989 to 1991. Their children underwent psychological assessments at various ages over the following 23 years.
The researchers examined self-reported symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression from 1,200 children at age 20 and compared them to the age their mothers gave birth. Daughters whose mothers gave birth from ages 30-34 reported significantly higher levels of stress, and those whose mothers gave birth at age 35 or older reported significantly higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression compared with daughters whose mothers gave birth under age 30.
There was no association for the 5% of mothers who were under age 20 when they gave birth.
Although the cause of this association is not clear, Tearne suspects it is not necessarily biological. One hypothesis is the large age difference between mother and daughter: "It may be that a 30 or more year age difference between mother and daughter leads to a significant difference in the value systems that may cause tensions in the relationship, leading to stress, worry and sadness in the child, particularly during the transition to young adulthood."
Another hypothesis is that mothers who gave birth in their 30s would be in their 50s when their daughters were young adults, and would therefore be more likely to be experiencing health problems due to aging. This could lead to more symptoms of stress in children, and particularly in daughters, who have been shown in previous studies to be more affected by their mother’s health problems than sons.
The daughters, but not the sons, of women who give birth at age 30 or older are more likely to experience symptoms of depression as young adults, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.
“This study suggests that older maternal age is associated with symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress in young adult females,” said Jessica Tearne, a doctoral student at the University of Western Australia and lead author of the study. It appears in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.
Tearne and her colleagues analyzed data from the Western Australian Pregnancy Cohort (Raine) Study. From 1989 to 1991, pregnant women were recruited into this study, and provided psychological and demographic information. The resulting offspring then underwent psychological assessment at various ages over the next 23 years.