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Adolescent Mothers and Their Children in Later Life

Frank F. Furstenberg, Jr., J. Brooks-Gunn and S. Philip Morgan
Family Planning Perspectives
Vol. 19, No. 4 (Jul. - Aug., 1987), pp. 142-151
Published by: Guttmacher Institute
DOI: 10.2307/2135159
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2135159
Page Count: 10
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Adolescent Mothers and Their Children in Later Life
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Abstract

The popular belief that early childbearing almost certainly leads to school dropout, subsequent unwanted births and economic dependence is greatly oversimplified, if not seriously distorted: A longitudinal study of over 300 primarily urban black women who gave birth as adolescents in the middle to late 1960s shows that a substantial majority completed high school, found regular employment and, even if they had at some point been on welfare, eventually managed to escape dependence on public assistance. Relatively few ended up with large families; most had fewer births than they had wanted or expected at the time they first became pregnant. The study also found that the pathways to success were surprisingly diverse. Although young women who gave birth at an early age were disadvantaged when compared with their peers who bore children later, huge variability existed. Teenage childbearing lowered the women's likelihood of economic success and increased their likelihood of having a large family. However, the women who had more economically secure and better-educated parents were more likely to succeed-perhaps as a result of receiving a greater amount of direct aid and having other family resources available. In addition, differences in educational motivation and performance were especially important factors. Young mothers who had been doing well in school and who had had high educational aspirations at the time of their first birth were much more likely than others to be successful later. Additional births at young ages also constrained the mothers' ability to attend school and accrue job experience. Women who had more children in the five years after their first birth did less well in school, had lower aspirations and came from more disadvantaged families than did women who curtailed their fertility. However, even when such factors were controlled for, subsequent fertility lowered the chances of economic success in later life. Changes in the mothers' life courses affected some aspect of their children's behavior at all ages, but there was no simple or recurring pattern of influence. For example, a mother's welfare receipt was associated with behavior problems in her child during the preschool years, but not later on. In contrast, the mother's marital status was not related to behavior problems during the preschool period but was clearly related to such problems during the child's adolescence.

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