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Comprehensive Child Marriage Research Library

Does Young Maternal Age Adversely Affect Child Development: Evidence From Cousin Comparisons in the United States


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Geronimus, AT; Korenman, S; Hillermeier, MM


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Population Council

Peer Reviewed


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Students Against Child Marriage's Object Summary:

In light of the extent to which teen pregnancy and lower socioeconomic status are correlated, this study strove to find out whether or not having a teen mother negatively impacted a child’s development by comparing the children of sisters who were in the same economic situation before their pregnancy, thus controlling for socioeconomic status as well as genetics and family background. They found little to no evidence that the children of teen mothers were any worse off developmentally than their cousins with older mothers. However, they did find that the largest factor influencing child development was socioeconomic status and that the children of disadvantaged mothers, no matter the age they were at the time of childbearing, did on the whole worse than the children of more economically advantaged mothers. The study suggests that rather than spending government money and policy on decreasing teen pregnancy, children would be better served by addressing the socioeconomic disadvantages that led to their mothers becoming pregnant in the first place.

Article Abstract (If Available):

Data from the US National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979-90 are used to estimate relations between maternal age at first birth and measures of early socioemotional and cognitive development of children. Cross-sectional estimates are compared to estimates based on comparisons of first cousins to gauge the importance of bias from family background heterogeneity. Consistent with previous literature, cross-sectional estimates suggest adverse consequences of teenage motherhood for child development. However, children of teen mothers appear to score no worse on measures of development than their first cousins whose mothers had first births after their teen years. These findings suggest that differences in family background of mothers (factors that precede their child-bearing years) may account for the low scores observed among young children of teen mothers. Issues such as these related to selection into teenage childbearing in the US may be relevant for a variety of social settings and for domestic and international policy concerns.

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