Importance: Women physicians may delay childbearing and experience childlessness more often than nonphysicians, but existing knowledge is based largely on self-reported survey data.
Objective: To compare patterns of childbirth between physicians and nonphysicians.
Design, setting, and participants: Population-based retrospective cohort study of reproductive-aged women (15-50 years) in Ontario, Canada, accrued from January 1, 1995, to November 28, 2018, and observed to March 31, 2019. Outcomes of 5238 licensed physicians of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario were compared with those of 26 640 nonphysicians (sampled in a 1:5 ratio). Physicians and nonphysicians were observed from age 15 years onward.
Exposures: Physicians vs nonphysicians.
Main outcomes and measures: The primary outcome was childbirth at gestational age of 20 weeks or greater. Cox proportional hazards models were used to examine the association between physician status and childbirth, overall and across career stage (postgraduate training vs independent practice) and specialty (family physicians vs specialists).
Results: All physicians (n = 5238) and nonphysicians (n = 26 640) were aged 15 years at baseline, and 28 486 (89.1%) were Canadian-born. Median follow-up was 15.2 (interquartile range, 12.2-18.2) years after age 15 years. Physicians were less likely to experience childbirth at younger ages (hazard ratio [HR] for childbirth at 15-28 years, 0.15; 95% CI, 0.14-0.18; P < .001) and initiated childbearing significantly later than nonphysicians; the cumulative incidence of childbirth was 5% at 28.6 years in physicians and 19.4 years in nonphysicians. However, physicians were more likely to experience childbirth at older ages (HR for 29-36 years, 1.35; 95% CI, 1.28-1.43; P < .001; HR for ≥37 years, 2.62; 95% CI, 2.00-3.43; P < .001), and ultimately achieved a similar cumulative probability of childbirth as nonphysicians overall. Median age at first childbirth was 32 years in physicians and 27 years in nonphysicians (P < .001). After stratifying by specialty, the cumulative incidence of childbirth was higher in family physicians than in both surgical and nonsurgical specialists at all observed ages.
Conclusions and relevance: The findings of this cohort study suggest that women physicians appear to delay childbearing compared with nonphysicians, and this phenomenon is most pronounced among specialists. Physicians ultimately appear to catch up to nonphysicians by initiating reproduction at older ages and may be at increased risk of resulting adverse reproductive outcomes. System-level interventions should be considered to support women physicians who wish to have children at all career stages.