Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Well-Being of Children Born to Teen Mothers

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Well-Being of Children Born to Teen Mothers

Article excerpt

Children born to early child bearers are more likely than other children to display problem behaviors or poor academic performance, but it is unclear whether early childbearing plays a causal role in these outcomes. Using multiple techniques to control for background factors, we analyze 2,908 young children and 1,736 adolescents and young adults in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79) and the NLSY79 Children and Young Adults (CNLSY79) data sets to examine whether early childbearing causes children's outcomes. We find evidence that teen childbearing plays no causal role in children's test scores and in some behavioral outcomes of adolescents. For other behavioral outcomes, we find that different methodologies produce differing results. We thus suggest caution in drawing conclusions about early parenthood's overarching effect.

Key Words: adolescents, adolescent parents, child development, low-income families, National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, school achievement.

Teenage parenthood is often blamed as a root cause of social ills in American society. As discussed below, some members of the academic community have at times supported the view that early fertility produces detrimental effects for children born to young mothers. Other investigators have argued the opposite, that adolescent childbearing plays no causal role in negative outcomes. In his 1999 Population Association of America presidential address, Cherlin (1999) warned that extreme opposing views of demographic effects impede understanding of social phenomena. Strongly opposing conclusions about teen parenting effects on children that exist across studies appear to illustrate Cherlin's warning. They may distract research and policy attention away from the complexities of the relationship between fertility timing and outcomes. In this article, we use multiple methods to study maternal age at first birth effects on a variety of children's outcomes and for a wide age span of children to adjudicate between strongly opposing claims regarding teen parenting's effects.

Research consistently shows a strong correlation between teen parenting and many adverse outcomes for children born to young mothers (Hayes, 1987; Maynard, 1997). The literature reaches far less definitive conclusions about whether this relationship is actually causal (for a review, see Hoffman, 1998).

Several analysts find evidence in support of a causal effect. Cooksey (1997) finds no effects of teen childbearing on subsequent children's mathematical ability but does find effects for reading recognition and comprehension. These effects decrease with the inclusion of mother's employment status, existence of siblings, and home environment. Moore, Morrison, and Greene (1997) find teen childbearing effects on academic tests, young children's behavior problems, and home environment. Grogger (1997) compares children born to women when they are teens with children born later to mothers who began childbearing as adolescents and finds effects on male incarceration rates. Haveman, Wolfe, and Peterson (1997) and Hardy, Shapiro, Astone, Miller, and Brooks-Gunn (1997) find effects on educational attainment, early fertility, and economic outcomes. Hofferth and Reid (2002) find effects on children's behavior problems and on a test of passage comprehension but not on other achievement tests.

Plausible arguments lead many citizens to suspect that teen childbearing plays a strong and harmful causal role. Early fertility may curtail a mother's development of her own human capital by leading her to prematurely exit school or to delay labor market entry, which may in turn lead her children to have fewer resources and to be less able to learn certain specific skills from her. Young mothers may not have developed socially as much as older mothers, leading them to possess fewer parenting skills. Young mothers also may be less likely to marry the fathers of their children, again reducing household resources and paternal involvement. …

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