The incidence of Down syndrome (DS) at conception is highly dependent upon the maternal age distribution and age-specific pregnancy rates. Live-birth prevalence of DS reflects these factors and fetal deaths. Since the introduction of prenatal diagnosis in the early 1970s, the role of fetal deaths in the equation has increased. Between 1920 and the early 1980s, DS live-birth prevalence decreased in many populations due to declining fertility rates, particularly among older women. In the late-1970s the trend reversed, as the median age of populations and birth rates among older women steadily increased. This paper illustrates these interactions using data we have analyzed for New York State (NYS) and comparative data obtained from the literature. Between 1983 and 1997 DS live-birth prevalence in NYS remained stable at about 9.9 per 10,000 live births. The number of prenatal tests performed increased by 158%, and the number of DS fetuses detected prenatally more than quadrupled. Fertility rates of women aged 35–49 continued to increase. The proportion of DS cases born to these older mothers increased from 23% in 1985 to 43% in 1997. We estimated that without prenatal diagnosis, DS live-birth prevalence would have been 17.0 per 10,000 live births by 1995. Cultural factors influence demographic trends, birthing technologies, physician practices, and women’s decision-making regarding prenatal screening and diagnosis for DS.
Olsen, Carolyn L.; Cross, Philip K.; and Gensburg, Lenore J.
"Down Syndrome: Interaction between Culture, Demography, and
Biology in Determining the Prevalence of a Genetic Trait,"
4, Article 6.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.wayne.edu/humbiol/vol75/iss4/6