Linkage of population-level perinatal, hospital, and birth registration datasets to data from the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) and school enrolments in Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales (NSW), enabled us to follow a cohort of 99,530 children from birth to their first year of school in 2009 or 2012. The study outcome was teacher-reported child development on five domains measured by the AEDC, including physical health and well-being, emotional maturity, social competence, language and cognitive skills, and communication skills and general knowledge. Developmental vulnerability was defined as domain scores below the 2009 AEDC 10th percentile cut point.
The mean maternal age at childbirth was 29.6 years (standard deviation [SD], 5.7), with 4,382 children (4.4%) born to mothers aged
Increasing maternal age was associated with a lesser risk of developmental vulnerability for children born to mothers aged 15 years to about 30 years. In contrast, increasing maternal age beyond 35 years was generally associated with increasing vulnerability, broadly equivalent to the risk for children born to mothers in their early twenties, which is highly relevant in the international context of later childbearing. That socioeconomic disadvantage explained approximately half of the increased risk of developmental vulnerability associated with younger motherhood suggests there may be scope to improve population-level child development through policies and programs that support disadvantaged mothers and children.