Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Early Motherhood in an Intergenerational Perspective: The Experiences of a British Cohort

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Early Motherhood in an Intergenerational Perspective: The Experiences of a British Cohort

Article excerpt

Using nationally representative longitudinal data from Great Britain, this study examines the fertility patterns of daughters of teen mothers. It tests several mechanisms to help explain how early motherhood is reproduced across generations, including an earlier inherited age of menarche, poor family and educational environments, and an early ideal age of childbearing among daughters of teen mothers. Some support is provided for all mechanisms except for an early inherited age at menarche. Even after controlling for family, school, and individual factors, daughters of teen mothers were more likely to have a birth in their teens and into their early 20s.

Key Words: intergenerational effects, teen motherhood.

Public concern surrounding the issue of teenage motherhood recently has accelerated in several industrialized countries because of high rates of teen motherhood, the public sector costs incurred by early childbearers, and the projected negative life outcomes for both mothers and children. Recent research on the long-term effects of teen motherhood has rejected a deterministic model that posits an inevitably negative life trajectory for teen mothers (Furstenberg, Brooks-Gunn, & Morgan, 1987). However, although many teen mothers have been able to avoid poverty or make the transition out of poverty, their children are frequently worse off than other children. Specifically, the experiences of children born to teen mothers reflect the obstacles they face from having access to fewer economic resources, parents with lower educational levels, and less parental involvement and cognitive stimulation (Furstenberg, Levine, & Brooks-Gunn, 1990; Hofferth, 1987; Moore, Morrison, & Greene, in press). However, the extent to which early motherhood is reproduced across generations and the mechanisms through which this happens have received little research attention.

This article uses data from the British National Child Development Study (NCDS) to explore intergenerational patterns in teen motherhood. Specifically, it tests whether daughters of teen mothers have different fertility patterns than other teens and whether or not they are more likely to become teen mothers themselves. The article extends existing research by examining intervening mechanisms-including age at menarche, family and educational environments, and early ideal ages of childbearing among daughters of teen mothers-to help explain how early motherhood may be reproduced across generations. Although the data were collected in Great Britain, the results illuminate factors involved in the reproduction of disadvantage across generations in many industrialized nations. TEEN BIRTH RATES IN GREAT BRITAIN AND THE UNITED STATES

Lessons from the study of Great Britain can be cautiously applied to the U.S. Demographic trends in the U.S. teen birth rate are more similar to Great Britain than to other European countries. The British teen birth rate, although much lower than the rate in the U.S., remains higher than teen birth rates in most other industrialized countries (Jones et al., 1986). Teen motherhood receives extensive media attention as a social issue in Great Britain, as it does in the U.S. (McRobbie, 1991; Phoenix, 1991). Also, in both the U.S. and Great Britain, a growing proportion of teen births are nonmarital.

Figure 1 presents trends in teen birth rates for Great Britain and the U.S. The British teen birth rate rose steadily during the 1960s until it peaked in 1971 at 51 births per thousand. After that, it declined in the 1970s and has remained between 28 and 33 per thousand throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The U.S. teen birth rate peaked in the mid1950s and declined steadily until the mid-1980s. Then it rose by nearly a quarter and leveled off to 57 per thousand in 1995 (Moore, Romano, & Oakes, 1996). In 1965, the British teen birth rate was 73% as high as the U.S. birth rate for Whites. (Because there was a very low percentage of nonWhite British teens at that time and 99% of the NCDS sample is White, the comparison group in this figure is U. …

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