The present literature review seeks to investigate socioeconomic consequences of teenage childbearing. Past literature suggests that women who become teenage mothers are more likely to become socioeconomically disadvantaged than those who prolong childbearing. However research increasingly suggests that, depending on the circumstances of the women in question, socioeconomic disadvantage is correlated with but not necessarily a consequence of early childbearing. It is concluded that programs and policies aimed at reducing teen pregnancy rates and eliminating the negative consequences experienced by teen mothers and their children are unlikely to be fully effective unless they realistically address the socioeconomic inequities faced by many young women in Canada.
Past literature on teen pregnancy and childbearing are often embedded in the assumption that having a child is a main gateway in leading teen mothers toward a troubled life of socioeconomic disadvantage (Cooksey, 1990; Cote & Allahar, 1994). However, as this paper will attempt to show, many of the central issues surrounding teenage childbearing have many contributing factors to such disadvantage. This paper reviews the developing body of literature that examines the socioeconomic consequences of teen pregnancy and childbearing. Throughout this literature, researchers try to disentangle the circumstances that predispose a woman to have a teen birth from circumstances that result from teen pregnancy. Women who give birth as teenagers are shown to have many similarities, in terms of family background and education, prior to becoming pregnant. The purpose of this literature review is to better understand how socioeconomic factors are related to the incidence of teen pregnancy and how the negative consequences of teen pregnancy are linked to socioeconomic disadvantage.
This paper reviews findings from both Canadian and U.S. studies which have investigated the socioeconomic outcomes associated with teen pregnancy and childbearing. The majority of research surveyed measured the effect that teen pregnancy and parenting had on such variables as education, employment and economic status. A smaller number of studies also looked at marital patterns of teen mothers and the parenting aspect of caregiving in how such children develop. Both short and long-term studies were included, however there were far more short-term studies than long-term ones in adolescent sexuality research. The sources of data on teen pregnancy rates, education and employment included information from both Canada and the U.S., as there was limited Canadian research to complete this review. Canadian Long-Term Outcomes Studies
This section reviews two large-scale studies (Grinstaff, 1988; Nova Scotia Department of Community Services, 1991). A long-term study of Nova Scotia mothers and their children conducted by the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services (NSDCS) presented findings on the socioeconomic outcomes related to teen pregnancy and single versus married parenting. Interviews sought to measure the participants’ self perceived satisfaction with many dimensions of life including, health, finances, family relations, employment, education and marital situation. The Nova Scotia study focused on how the lives of women and children were altered depending on the age at first birth and marital status. Unmarried mothers of all ages reported most dissatisfaction with educational achievement. The data reveals that those women who were in school when they became pregnant were more likely to return to school after giving birth than those who dropped out prior to their pregnancy. The older unmarried mothers were more likely to have dropped out of school after becoming pregnant and were therefore less likely to complete their education than were the younger unmarried mothers. Older, married mothers who had higher levels of completed education were more likely to have professional positions with greater salaries. Lower levels of education and work-related experience limited the employment opportunities of younger mothers (NSDCS, 1991). With reference to the situation of the young unmarried mothers the authors note, “Their disadvantaged position in relation to the older married women is not, however, merely a function of age. The older unmarried mothers also experienced more difficult circumstances than their married counterparts and in some instances appear more disadvantaged than the young unmarried mothers.” The NSDCS (1991) study also assessed the children of mothers in the sample and found that the “generally positive outcome of the children’s development puts to rest a great deal of concern and speculation about how well children of unmarried teenage mothers develop compared to children born into two parent families.” The study shows that mothers share similar experiences raising their children (e.g. time constraints) while differences occur not because one group is ore devoted but because of the circumstances in which the families live. The NSDCS recommended improving the educational and employment options of all women. They emphasized the significance of offering affordable daycare and housing, access to education for all mothers, improved social assistance programs to address high poverty rates and the need to expand job opportunities for women. Educational programs geared towards children at-risk of dropping out, particularly whose mothers have 11 years or less of schooling, is recommended, since dropping out of school is often a precursor of early pregnancy. There is a strong need for comprehensive sexual and relationship education to be offered at all levels of school. Teacher training to support the delivery of such programs is also recommended, with a primary focus on problem solving. Grindstaff (1988) conducted a study of the long-term economic outcome for a sample of Canadian women who were married and/or had children before the age of 20. Research findings suggested that regardless of age, women who marry or have children and are within the disadvantaged community would ordinarily have a reduced educational attainment. By the age of 30, 58% of women who married and had children as teens were in the paid labour force, with 68% of these women having full-time employment. For those women who married and had children after 25, the corresponding percentages are 54% employed and 65% full time. Both marriage and childbearing at an early age tend to limit a woman’s job opportunities to mostly non-professional occupations. However, Grindstaff’s study suggested employment prospects are independent of age at first birth and are more affected by age at marriage and childbearing at any age. The patterns of less successful employment outcomes for women who had children as teenagers were similar to those for women who married as teenagers but delayed childbearing until ages 20-24. Grindstaff concludes that having a child, as a teen is not significantly different from having a child between the ages of 20-24. Both events impact negatively on the income level and labour market participation of the mothers. However he recommends that the negative economic consequences of teen births and marriages should be recognized by young people to postpone getting married and having children at a young age. While the author notes that early marriage and early childbearing result in negative economic consequences, the fact that childbearing at older ages also takes an economic toll on women, highlights the need “from a policy perspective…to diminish the economic impact of having a first child.” Literature Reviews
This section reviews three recently published literature reviews on teen pregnancy outcomes in Canada and in the U.S. (Bissell, 2000; Hoffman, 1998; Steven-Simon & Lowry, 1995). Bissell (2000) reviewed literature on the socioeconomic consequences of teen pregnancy and childbearing as well as literature exploring the birth intentions of teenage women who have become mothers. Some of the studies cited in these reviews blame various socioeconomic factors in predisposing some women to disadvantaged lifestyles regardless of having experienced a teen birth (Furstenberg, Brooks-Gunn, & Morgan, 1987; Miller, 1992). The findings of these studies suggest that “the negative effect of early childbearing on the educational and employment achievements of young Americans could be a reflection of the self-selection of academic underachievers to the teenage childbearing group” (Steven-Simon & Lowry, 1995). The authors also note the importance of acknowledging the fact that, for many economically disadvantaged teens, pregnancy is seen as a positive life choice necessary to adapt an adult role in society. Policies and programs that support the realistic attainment of educational and employment goals must make it possible for such teens to fare better if they postpone pregnancy, which is not the case for most low-income teens today. The authors conclude that in order to reduce teen pregnancy among this population, early parenthood must be looked down upon as being the “least rather than the most attractive career option” (Steven-Simon & Lowry, 1995).
Hoffman’s (1998) recent review of the literature on teenage pregnancy focuses on research that addresses long-held assumptions that teenage childbearing leads to poverty, compromised child development, unemployment and poor educational outcomes. Teenage mothers do not represent a random sample of the population since the majority has family backgrounds characterized by poverty and low socioeconomic status. If the age at first birth were delayed for such teenagers, would this necessarily improve their life situation and that of their children? Studies in the mid-1970s and early 1980s focused on controlling factors that might contribute to the likelihood of teen birth, for example, parental income and educational levels. Much of this research has overlooked the impact of unmeasured factors like parental involvement and attitudes. Since many unmeasured factors would be difficult if not impossible to quantify, more recent research has shifted the emphasis to comparison studies between teen mothers and companion groups like sisters (Geronimus & Korenman, 1992; Rosen, Herskovitz, & Stack, 1980) and teen mothers vs. teens who miscarried (Brazzell & Acock, 1988; Hotz, McElroy, & Sanders, 1997). The rationale behind such studies was that women in the two groups share many similarities in terms of family background, education and environment; any such differences between the groups could thus be attributed to the fact of having had a teen birth or not. These studies lend support to the argument that the negative consequences of teen pregnancy have been overstated in past research.
While the findings of these studies shed new light on the teen pregnancy “problem”, Hoffman (1998) is critical of some methodological points. For Geronimus and Korenman’s (1992) sister study, he points out the small sample size and the limited representative of comparing women in late 1960s to mid 1980s to women today. Hoffman notes that many researchers have only these outdated samples to work with, and since the economic and social environment of the United States has changed dramatically during the last few decades, it is dubious to generalize from the experiences of teenagers 20 to 30 years ago to those of today. The results of Hotz, McElroy, and Sander’s (1996) study of women who miscarried as teenagers versus those who had a teen birth are limited by a small sample size. Also, some of the teens that miscarried went on to have a teen birth and thus the control group did not consist exclusively of women who had avoided a teen birth. Studies on the Socioeconomic Consequences of Teen Pregnancy
This section reviews a few American studies that examine socioeconomic costs (e.g., low income) of teenage childbearing. While the findings of such studies are not directly applicable to the Canadian situation, the general trends and observations discussed provide a framework that Canadian specific research lies upon.
Geronimus & Korenman (1992) analyzed data collected in 1988 and considered such socioeconomic indicators as employment and marital status, education level and poverty. The researchers utilized three surveys: 1) National Longitudinal Survey of Labor Market Experience, Young Women’s Cohort (NLSYW); 2) Panel Study Income Dynamics (PSID); 3) National Longitudinal Survey of Labor market Experience of Youth (NLSY). The NLSYW follows economic progress of a sample of women who were between the ages of 15 and 24 in the year 1968. The PSID study focuses on the economic status of the family unit in this year. Findings from the employment, marital status, education level and poverty “yielded an unsettling wide range of estimates,” and thus the authors caution against drawing firm conclusions from any of the results. The results from both the NLSYW and PSID samples point to higher family income as being directly associated with the likelihood of high school completion. And, surprisingly, the NLSW sample is unable to connect teen births and high school completion.
In critiquing their own methodology Geronimus and Korenman (1992) note a few concerns that could have influenced the findings from their study. The data only represents findings from one year only and are unable to reflect long-term effects of teen childbearing. Also, the study measures a select set of socioeconomic factors. The authors emphasize the important of considering “alternative measures of well-being,” such as single parenting, poverty and mental health. Previous work by Seabrook & Avison (2012) looked at the effects of socioeconomic status and cumulative disadvantage on producing health inequalities. The findings suggested poor social circumstances in early life are able to impact life long health outcomes mostly because of differential exposure to risk factors, which increases the length of time their families live in poverty.
A study by Klepinger, Lundber, and Plotnick (1999) examined the effect that a teen birth has on education, work experience and a resultant income. The findings suggested that teenage childbearing led to a decreased income because of their limited educational attainment. The authors consider that lower earnings of teen mothers, and the need for childcare contribute to long-term dependence on the government aid. Therefore, they conclude that a reduction in teen pregnancy rates will lead to improved economic prospects for young women (Brazzell & Acock, 1988; Card & Wise, 1978).
While there have not been detailed Canadian studies of patterns of welfare use by teenage mothers, Canadian welfare statistics can offer some insight into welfare trends based on age, fertility and marital status (National Council on Welfare, 1998). According to 1997 statistics, teenage single parents accounted for 3% of all single parents on welfare. Most (80%) single mothers on welfare were listed as divorced, widowed or separated. Teenage mothers and unmarried mothers with great numbers of children did not represent a large proportion of those on welfare. The most common reasons for assistance, lack of work and disability, do not reflect circumstances that occur as a result of teen childbearing, but rather reflect current economic conditions and the vulnerability of the disable in Canadian society.
A study of the short-term economic consequences of teen pregnancy by Burne, Myers, and King (1991) examined education, employment and income for women who became pregnant as teenagers. The authors included in their sample women who had the child as well as those who chose abortion. Their research tested the hypothesis that it is teenage childbearing itself that leads to a reduction in education and income rather than pregnancy, and those teens who have an abortion and never pregnant teens should therefore experience similar educational and labour market outcomes. Women who had never been pregnant had higher educational achievements and incomes than women in the teen birth and teen abortion samples. However, the authors emphasize that their research examines short-term consequences of adolescent pregnancy and it will be necessary to follow the sample groups for longer periods of time to determine if these negative short-term outcomes alter or disappear over time.
Butler (1992) described the changing economic consequences of teenage childbearing for the years 1968 to 1986 in the context of social and economic trends that could affect both incidence and outcomes associated with teen pregnancy. For the decades in question, the author notes that teenage mothers were “more likely to be unmarried when they give birth, which increases their chances of being a single mother later in life and therefore increases their chances of poverty.”
In order to assess the economic well being of teenage mothers in the years from 1968 to 1986, Butler analyzed data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID). Findings indicated that, in general, “the economic well-being of women who began childbearing as teenagers declined more steeply than did the economic well-being of women who delayed childbearing until at least their 20s.The author notes that many women continue to have children as teenagers regardless of the economic costs. Prevention programs and programs to decrease the negative impact of teenage childbearing must recognize and address this reality.
This paper illustrates the negative consequences associated with teen childbearing. Women who become teen mothers are less likely to complete high school, more likely to work at low-income jobs, experience longer periods of unemployment, and more likely to experience single parenthood and higher levels of poverty than women who prolong pregnancy past their teen years. However when economic variables are factored into the data analysis, the negative consequences of teen pregnancy are shown to be largely dependent on family background and income level rather than on maternal age at birth. The fact that a large percentage of teen mothers come from socioeconomically disadvantage backgrounds means that they suffer many of the negative consequences of teen pregnancy by virtue of their family status and pre-pregnancy life situation. The research also indicates that for women from disadvantaged backgrounds, the avoidance of a teen birth does not always improve future education or employment opportunities and thus there is little perceived economic incentive to delay childbearing. Policies and programs aimed at reducing teen pregnancy rates and eliminating the negative consequences experienced by teen mothers and their children are unlikely to function effectively unless they realistically address the socioeconomic inequities faced by many young Canadian women. A future Canadian approach to teenage pregnancy could take into account the ethnic-cultural profile of Canadian teenagers who become pregnant.
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