The Mommy Track: The Consequences of Gender Ideology and Aspirations on Age at First Motherhood

By Stewart, Jennifer | Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, June 2003 | Go to article overview

The Mommy Track: The Consequences of Gender Ideology and Aspirations on Age at First Motherhood


Stewart, Jennifer, Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare


While there is extensive and compelling evidence that growing up in an impoverished background leads to early fertility, few studies explain why early socioeconomic disadvantage leads to early childbearing. Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, I test whether gender ideology, as well as educational and occupational aspirations, mediates the connection between poverty and teen fertility patterns. Traditional gender ideology depresses age at first motherhood. Adolescent aspirations appear to act as protective factors in the production of early pregnancy.

Introduction

Over the past two decades, teenage childbearing has received much scholarly investigation. Among women between the ages of fifteen and nineteen, 7.2% of white women, 15.8% of Hispanic women, and 14.4% of African American women have had one child (Bachu & O'Connnell, 2001). Unfortunately, early childbearing has a variety of negative effects on the economic outcomes of both mother and child (Duncan & Hoffman, 1990; Hogan & Kitagawa, 1985; McLanahan, 1988). This research focuses on the processes that lead to teen motherhood.

Previous research has been limited in three important ways. First, the vast majority of studies have examined the teen childbearing patterns of either whites or African Americans (see e.g., Bumpass & McLanahan, 1989; Haveman & Wolfe, 1994; Hogan & Kitagawa, 1985). The inclusion of other racial and ethnic groups may clarify the processes that contribute to teen fertility patterns. Second, while a few researchers have examined the effects of adolescent self-esteem on childbearing patterns (Nock, 1998; Oates, 1997), most studies emphasize the impact of poverty status and educational attainment on teen fertility. The role of more subjective factors such as perceptions of gender appropriate behaviors in contributing to teen pregnancy have not been widely examined. Third, previous research fails to consider the effect of teen's educational and occupational aspirations on the likelihood of early motherhood (see Eastman, 1998 for an exception). Occupational and educational aspirations may reflect perceptions of opportunity, attitudes about goals, and gender socialization.

The present research adds to the understanding of adolescent fertility patterns. Toward this end, the effect of both structural and individual characteristics on the outcome of age at first motherhood will be examined. Additionally, this study will employ longitudinal data that contains fertility information for three racial groups: African Americans, Mexican Americans, and whites. African Americans and Mexican Americans are the largest minority groups in the United States and research that includes all three racial groups is sorely lacking. Finally, this investigation will explore the impact of young women's personal gender role ideology, as well as educational and occupational aspirations on their fertility patterns.

This research addresses two primary questions. First, what is the impact of gender ideology on age at first motherhood? If young women have traditional attitudes with respect to gender roles, will they become mothers at an earlier age than those whose attitudes about gender roles are more contemporary? Second, can educational and occupational aspirations act as protectants in the process that leads to early pregnancy? Insofar as aspirations indicate planning and intention, it is possible that teens with high aspirations actively seek to avoid becoming mothers at early ages.

Background

Due to the negative effects of teen fertility on the future status attainment of young women and their children, teen childbearing is frequently posited as an instance of deviance. For example, proponents of the welfare culture model of poverty transmission have argued that welfare encourages premarital fertility through eligibility rules that penalize marriage and increase benefits with the birth of additional children (Murray, 1984). …

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