I called my daughter today to say she might want to wait awhile longer before having a baby. “It could double your chances of living to be a very old woman,” I told her. (She only laughed.)
Actually, I wasn’t joking. I had just read about a Boston University School of Medicine study that finds women who have their last child after age 33 are twice as likely to live to be 95 or older, compared to women who have their last child by age 29.
The study’s research team suspects this “longevity advantage” may be the result of gene variants in some women that slow their reproductive aging and lower their risk for age-related diseases that can hamper fertility (like ovarian cancer or diabetes).
Their findings may help explain why women who have children after 40 are a whopping four times more likely to live to age 100, compared to those who have their last child at a younger age.
And why 85% of all people who live to be 100 years or older are women.
Of course, the Boston investigators are quick to say that deliberately waiting to have children won’t contribute to longevity. Instead, says the study’s co-author Paola Sebastiani, PhD, if a woman has the natural ability to have children later in life, then her reproductive system – and perhaps her entire body – probably ages at a slower than average pace.
Given this apparent link between a longer fertility window and a longer lifespan, Sebastiani and her team are now trying to identify the genetic variants responsible for this connection. They hope their work will one day help scientists develop drugs to mimic the advantage that some women seem to enjoy naturally.
So if you’ve reached the age where many of your girlfriends are in their early 30s and moving bravely into motherhood, remember that your own biological clock might have years to go before the alarm goes off. It just depends on your genes.