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Accounting for First-Time Motherhood at Advanced Maternal Age: Risk, Temporality, and the Preservation of Stratified Reproduction


Even though the birth rate among women, aged 35 and older, in the United States continues to rise, negative connotations about “advanced maternal age” persist. In this article, we draw on symbolic interactionist theories of identity work and feminist scholarship on reproduction and motherhood to analyze qualitative interviews with 55 women who had a first birth at age 35 or older for how they interpret and negotiate discourses of reproductive risk and the timing of their transition to motherhood. We find that participants constructed accounts that allowed them to challenge the assumption that their reproductive bodies were biomedically risky and normalize their reproductive decision-making. By positioning themselves as exempt from risk due to their healthy lifestyles and better prepared for motherhood than other women, participants engaged in strategic identity work informed by their social location as primarily White, highly educated, and class-privileged women. Our analysis advances feminist scholarship on reproduction, motherhood, and inequality by revealing the ways that stratified reproduction, a moral hierarchy of motherhood, and neoliberal ideology shape how first-time mothers of advanced maternal age manage perceptions of reproductive risk and delayed childbearing.

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This research was supported by a grant from the Office of the Vice President of Research at the University of South Carolina.

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Correspondence to Dana Berkowitz.

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Berkowitz, D., Mann, E.S. Accounting for First-Time Motherhood at Advanced Maternal Age: Risk, Temporality, and the Preservation of Stratified Reproduction. Sex Roles 88, 68–85 (2023).

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  • Motherhood
  • Advanced maternal age
  • Stratified reproduction
  • Intersectional privilege
  • Qualitative methods