Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Academic and Behavioral Outcomes among the Children of Young Mothers

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Academic and Behavioral Outcomes among the Children of Young Mothers

Article excerpt

In this article, we use newly available data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth to investigate the effects of early motherhood on academic and behavioral outcomes for children born to early child bearers. We find that early motherhood's strong negative correlation with children's test scores and positive correlation with children's grade repetition is almost entirely explained by prebirth individual and family background factors of teen mothers themselves. However, early childbearing is associated indirectly with reduced children's test scores through its linkage to family size (and thus to child birth order). We find a different pattern in predicting fighting, truancy, early sexual activity, and other problem behaviors among adolescent and young adult offspring. For these behaviors, maternal age at first birth remains an important risk factor even after controlling for a wide range of background factors and maternal characteristics. These results highlight the diverse pathways through which teen parenting might in

fluence subsequent child well-being and social performance.

Key Words: adolescent sexual activity, behavior problems, grade retention, poverty, teen childbearing and parenthood, test scores.

Controlling for background factors, do the children of teen mothers experience worse behavioral and academic outcomes than their comparable peers do? Although this is a central question of public and academic concern, there is little consensus about the link between early parenting and subsequent child outcomes. The lack of available research is especially pronounced regarding adolescent outcomes, although such outcomes constitute a principal area of policy concern.

Many researchers and policy makers argue that young mothers, especially teen mothers, are less able to emotionally and financially nurture capable, healthy, well-adjusted offspring (Hayes, 1987; Maynard, 1997). These fears are heightened by the strong first-order correlation between early parenthood and many poor child outcomes including low birth weight, low cognitive test scores, behavioral problems, grade repetition, and adult economic disadvantage.

Early work concentrating on these associations supported the popular belief of teen parenthood's dire consequences. For example, the 1987 twovolume treatment of teen parenthood Risking the Future states,

The personal costs resulting from unintended pregnancies and untimely birth are far too high to countenance an indifferent response. ... Heightened health and developmental risks to the children of adolescent mothers are a few of the most obvious and immediate personal costs. (Hayes, 1987, p. ix)

However, later work has questioned the causal role played by early parenting and has paid more explicit attention to other family and individual background factors that might account for teen parenthood's apparently detrimental effects. By 1994, some investigators openly questioned the conventional wisdom regarding early parenthood (Geronimus, Korenman, & Hillemeier, 1994). Geronimus et al. write,

Our finding that, net of family background factors, teen childbearing may not adversely affect early childhood development casts doubt ... on the presumptive benefits to children of efforts to alter women's fertility behavior. (p. 605)

This article uses recently available data to examine a variety of adolescent behavioral outcomes to create a more complete picture of the relationship between maternal age and child outcomes. It also examines psychometric test scores of younger children and retention in school-two key indicators of academic performance. In four ways, this article contributes to the literature on the impact of early parenting on subsequent outcomes among children.

First, we look at outcomes for a group that has received less systematic attention in the teen parenting debate: adolescents and young adults born to teen mothers. …

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