Academic journal article Demographic Research

Adult Outcomes of Teen Mothers across Birth Cohorts

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Adult Outcomes of Teen Mothers across Birth Cohorts

Article excerpt

1. Background

Age at first birth and adult outcomes

Teen birth rates have decreased over time, but rates are still much higher in the U.S. than in other developed countries. The proportion of births to teens has also declined (National Center for Health Statistics 2012, Martin et al. 2013).

In adulthood, teen mothers differ on various socioeconomic measures from women who delayed childbearing. Teen mothers are less likely to finish high school and attend college than older mothers (Hoffman 2006, Jones et al. 1999, Lee 2010). Because poverty is strongly associated with education, the greater risk that teen mothers face of low educational attainment suggests that they are also at greater risk for poverty. Adult employment also varies for teen and older mothers. Teen mothers are less likely to be working and to be working full-time than are women who were not teen mothers (Lee 2010). However, whether teen mothers are worse off as adults than slightly older mothers is not clear. Some work suggests that they are not worse off on measures such as marital status, wages, and poverty (Hotz, McElroy, and Sanders 2005). Other work suggests that teen mothers are more likely to receive benefits, be less educated, and be a single parent than women who were 20-22 at first birth (Hobcraft and Kiernan 2001).

Research questions

This study focuses on the adult situations of mothers whose first birth occurred during their teens, early twenties, or afterwards between these groups and across birth cohorts. The causal pathways and mechanisms of adult outcomes are not a focus of this study. This study first asks whether the adult SES of women who became mothers at different ages has differed across birth cohorts; that is, are the adult lives of teen, young adult, and older adult mothers from recent cohorts better or worse than those in earlier cohorts? Second, have within-cohort SES differences between groups of mothers changed across cohorts? This question focuses on comparisons between teen and other mothers, first by comparing teen mothers to non-teen mothers, then by comparing teen mothers to women who became mothers in their early twenties.

Societal trends

Recent social, cultural, and economic trends in the U.S. include rising educational attainment, particularly among women, increasing proportions of women joining the work force, and declining proportions of children growing up with both parents which are less likely than single-mother families to be poor. In addition, teen birth rates have been generally declining for decades, thus reducing the percentage of children born to teen mothers (National Center for Health Statistics 2012, Martin et al. 2013).

Women's educational attainment has risen markedly. In 1960, 57.5% of women ages 25 and older had not finished high school; only 5.8% had a college degree. By 2010, only 12.4% of women had not finished high school; 29.6% had finished college (U.S. Census 2011). This trend suggests that the proportion of children raised by high school- and college-educated mothers has increased over time, potentially lowering the proportion at risk for a teen birth (An Haveman and Wolfe 1993).

The families in which children grow up have become more diverse. The proportion of intact two-parent families has declined and the percentage of single-parent, blended and other family types has grown. In 1960, 87.7% of children lived with two parents, declining to 72.5% in 1990. Since then, the proportion of two-parent families has been stable at about 69% (U.S. Census, 2012). Given the link between family structure and teen motherhood (Hofferth and Goldscheider 2010), the rise of single-mother families potentially exposes a greater proportion of children to this risk.

Family structure is associated with parental education and poverty status. Parental education in two-parent families is much higher than in single-mother families (U.S. Census 2011). Changes in female labor force participation are related to gains in female education and changes in family structure. …

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