top of page

Comprehensive Child Marriage Research Library

Deviant (M)others: The Construction of Teenage Motherhood in Contemporary Discourse


Object Type:

Wilson, H; Huntington, A


Year & Month/Season:




Cambridge University Press

Peer Reviewed


PDF Available?


Public Link:

ISSN (If Available)


If Journal Article:

ISBN (If Book):

Page Start


Page End









Students Against Child Marriage's Object Summary:

This article explores the ways in which teen mothers are portrayed and used in the public discourse of three countries: the United States, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand. Although the teen birthrates are declining in each country, public discussions of teen mothers are still incredibly prevalent and, for the most part, incredibly negative and tied to fears of welfare dependency. The authors find that the vilification of teen mothers as a public health crisis even while rates are declining is a result of the idea that these women are resisting normative ideas of middle-class womanhood in which education is followed by career and then perhaps children. Once their children are born, teen mothers are pressured into returning to the workforce while their children are young and shamed if they do not, despite the immense pressure this puts on teen mothers to both support and raise their children. Wilson and Huntington advocate for elevating the voices of teen mothers themselves, in the public discourse, rather than relying on government documents, reports, and statistics, to get a more accurate idea of what the experience of teen motherhood is like.

Article Abstract (If Available):

Paradoxically, the focus on teen motherhood as an object of concern in the West has coincided with declining rates of teen birth. This suggests that the view of teenage motherhood as problematic is underpinned by changing social and political imperatives regarding the role of, women in these countries. This article examines the literature surrounding teenage motherhood from the United States, United Kingdom and New Zealand, and explores the way in which normative perceptions of motherhood have shifted over the past few decades to position teenage mothers as stigmatised and marginalised. Two specific discourses - those of welfare dependency and social exclusion - are highlighted, and their mediation through scientific discourses examined. The increasing trend to evidence-based policy development has masked the ideological basis of much policy in this area and highlights the importance of critical valuation of the discourses surrounding teenage motherhood. A critical examination of the literature suggests that teenage mothers are vilified, not because the evidence of poor outcomes for teen mothers and their children is particularly compelling, but because these young women resist the typical life trajectory of their middle-class peers which conforms to the current governmental objectives of economic growth through higher education and increased female workforce participation.

Relevant Students Against Child Marriage Analysis Videos:

bottom of page