Jun 24, 2021

Female Physicians Delay Having Children Until Later, Study Finds

Students, Research, Education, Alumni, Faculty & Staff, Inclusion & Diversity
Andrea Simpson

Gabrielle Giroday

Andrea Simpson


Female physicians delay pregnancy later than their peers who are not physicians, indicates research conducted by a University of Toronto team.

The study, recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine, looked at more than 26,000 women who were nonphysicians, compared with 5,200 licensed physicians in Ontario.

“We know female physicians often delay pregnancy to pursue their career goals,” says Andrea Simpson, an assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Temerty Faculty of Medicine.

In the study, data analyzed by the researchers showed female physicians “significantly postponed” when they started having children, and as a result, a rise in “age-related adverse pregnancy outcomes” may occur.

The data – which was drawn from data from the College of Physicians and Surgeons and ICES – looked at women between the ages of 15 years old to 50 years old, from 1995 to 2018.

The data showed female physicians delayed having their first child until they were about 32 years old, says Simpson. In comparison, nonphysicians had their first child when they were about 27 years old.

Simpson said it’s important to consider the possible effects of delaying childbirth until a later age.

“We tell our patients about the risks of delayed pregnancy. With later maternal age, there is an increased risk of miscarriage and of infertility, and of adverse pregnancy outcomes like preterm births,” says Simpson, who is also an adjunct scientist at ICES and an obstetrician gynecologist at Unity Health Toronto.

The research indicates female physicians may intentionally wait to have children until later in their careers, says Simpson.

“Physicians appeared to catch up to nonphysicians at later reproductive ages. We saw an increased rate in childbirth by physicians, compared with the general population, after the age of 37 years old,” says Simpson.

By age 37, the rate of childbirth was similar, with 62.7 per cent of female physicians giving birth compared with 62.1 per cent of non-physicians.

“The increased incidence of childbirth in physicians compared with non-physicians after age 37 is significant because it suggests that physicians always planned to have children, but they were waiting for a good time to do it. And, when we looked at what time it was, it appeared to be when physicians completed their training,” says Simpson.

Researchers also made the “surprising finding” that 98 per cent of female physicians did not have children at the time of licensing, says Simpson.

“It is rare for medical students to have children, which is interesting in and of itself,” says Simpson.

“It raises some interesting questions about what we can do to support physicians at all stages of training if they want to have children.” 

The research also points to further important areas of study when it comes to physicians’ health and wellness, says Simpson.

“There is still this overwhelming feeling that having a child during training is just not compatible with training in medicine. Medical training is very rigorous and there is no perfect time to have a baby.” says Simpson.

“I think this research shows it’s important to think about ways we can support physicians in their roles as parents and as physicians at all career stages.”

The results of the research suggest the importance of systemic change, says Simpson.

“Physicians and physicians-in-training should be supported to have children whenever they want to,” she says.


This research was funded by a New Investigator Grant from the Physicians’ Services Incorporated (PSI) Foundation.