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From a “public health issue” to a “social phenomenon”? The French media coverage of late motherhood and late fatherhood (2001–2019)

Marie-Caroline Compans

Research framework: Since the 1980s, late births (above age 35 or 40) have been on the rise in low-fertility countries such as France. The normative context in which this phenomenon occurs is rarely explored. Notably, it may now be more favourable to late parenthood than it was in the past.

Objectives: To study the discourse on late motherhood and fatherhood in the contemporary French media, by questioning the main themes and the actors and actresses carrying these discourses.

Methodology: The main vocabulary categories are highlighted from a textual analysis taken from a corpus of online French media, which consists of 137 publications dating from 2001 to 2019 (mainly from the 2010s).

Results: The first theme refers to the risks of late pregnancy that is supported by medical expertise. By means of demographic expertise, another main theme shows a trend towards an increase in late births. When it comes to postmenopausal pregnancies, late motherhood is still widely condemned while late fatherhood is less covered. When it is, it is with regard to the risks of fetal malformations increasing with the man’s age and cases of celebrities becoming fathers later in life.

Conclusions: Warnings about the medical risks associated with late parenthood, contributing to its representation as a “public health issue”, are largely counterbalanced by more positive discourses, that are introducing late parenthood as a “social phenomenon”.

Contribution: This analysis contributes to understanding the context in which late parenthood increases, and provides elements related to the media coverage of gender and family roles.