As more women in America and other developed countries are waiting to have children and the average age of childbirth continues to climb, those who would like to have children but have yet to conceive can take heart. An observational study published this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has found that women’s reproductive life span has increased in the United States over the last 60 years.

From 1959 – 2018, researchers followed nearly 8,000 women and examined trends in age at natural menopause, menarche, and reproductive lifespan over time, using survey data and linear regression models. The researchers observed that during this period, the average age of menopause increased by 1.5 years while the average age of menarche (first menstruation) declined by .8 years. The mean total reproductive lifespan increased by 2.1 years. Women who underwent surgical menopause (menopause caused by surgeries such as an oophorectomy) were excluded from the study.

So what is responsible for this noteworthy shift? Writes the team of researchers, “Sociodemographic, lifestyle, and behavior factors were significantly associated with age at natural menopause and reproductive lifespan. Additional potential contributing factors may include improved access to health care, nutrition, and environmental factors.”

Some of the factors that were correlated with age of menopause include race, wealth/income, education level, smoking status, and use of oral contraceptives. On average, Black and Hispanic women reached menopause earlier than white women, as did women living below the poverty line, and smokers. Conversely, having more than a high school education, and the use of oral contraceptives was associated with a later age of natural menopause.

So what are the takeaways? Well, for one, since lifestyle factors like smoking do influence age of menopause, you do have some control over your reproductive life span. Maintaining healthy habits may raise the age at which you undergo menopause, lengthening your reproductive window. It’s never too late to develop healthy habits!

Reviewed by: Cynthia Krause, MD

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