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Kids Having Kids Unravels the Complex Consequences of Teen Parenthood for Individuals and Society

Document date: November 21, 2008
Released online: November 21, 2008

Contact: Elizabeth Cronen, (202) 261-5723, [email protected]

WASHINGTON, D.C., October 23, 2008—Teen pregnancy and birth rates in the United States are the industrialized world’s highest. Each year, 7.5 percent of all 15- to 19-year-old women become pregnant, resulting in 442,000 births among teenagers in 2006.

The second edition of Kids Having Kids: Economic Costs and Social Consequences of Teen Pregnancy from the Urban Institute Press examines the context and impact of teen parenthood and finds no simple relationship between a person’s early parenthood and her or her family’s subsequent health, wealth, or education. Instead, the volume’s 21 contributors find, many personal and economic factors combine to influence the life of a teen parent and her family.

Economists V. Joseph Hotz, Susan Williams McElroy, and Seth G. Sanders in one chapter acknowledge that women who have babies during their teens tend to have lower levels of education, employment, and earnings, to depend more on public assistance, and to spend more time as single parents. “It is no wonder that teenage childbearing is perceived as a trap door that propels young mothers downwards socioeconomically,” they write. That said, they find that teens who have their first child before age 18 do not work less, earn less, or receive less spousal income and are not more dependent on public assistance than similar young women who delay childbearing. 

Yet, in a companion analysis of newer data, Saul D. Hoffman describes worse circumstances for recent groups of early parents and finds that a teen birth reduces the likelihood a young woman will continue her education beyond high school. Additionally, a teen mother’s earnings and spousal income both are lower than if the young woman had delayed a first birth, according to Hoffman.
Children of teen mothers score lower than children of older parents in assessments of health, cognitive ability, and behavior, report contributors Jennifer S. Manlove, Elizabeth Terry-Humen, Lisa A. Mincieli, and Kristin A. Moore. Much of the difference disappears, however, when researchers control for such background factors as a teen’s education, her mother’s education, and whether she grew up with both parents. Some negative effects consistently trump background. Babies of teen mothers are more likely to have a low birth weight, and daughters of 18- to 19-year-old mothers have lower odds of completing high school.

Manlove, Terry-Humen, Mincieli, and Moore write, “When social, economic, and demographic factors are controlled, many findings diminish or go away, which suggest that improving a mother’s educational and social circumstances would contribute to better outcomes for children. In other words, delaying the first birth is part of the story but not the whole story.”

The book’s analysis of the economic costs of teen parenthood is equally multifaceted. Editors Saul D. Hoffman and Rebecca A. Maynard report that women who become parents before age 18 have about $1,600 more in net annual income from all sources, including public assistance, than would be expected if they delay childbearing until age 20 or 21. Women who become parents at 18 or 19 have average net incomes about $300 higher than expected if they delay childbearing. Teenage motherhood costs taxpayers about $7.3 billion annually in social-program costs, including foster care and incarceration, as well as diminished taxes from lower-earning and lower-spending teenage parents and their children.

Kids Having Kids also measures teen parenthood’s effect on child abuse and neglect and on the likelihood that the child of a teen mother will grow up to commit crime, truncate his or her education, or become a teen parent.

Kids Having Kids is a volume of comprehensive research and analytical rigor. Hoffman, Maynard, and their colleagues disentangle the many complicated social issues surrounding and affecting teen parenthood, allowing policymakers and advocates to develop the right responses for the right problems.

Kids Having Kids: Costs and Social Consequences of Teen Pregnancy, edited by Saul D. Hoffman and Rebecca A. Maynard, is available from the Urban Institute Press (paper, 6” x 9”, 460 pages, ISBN 0-87766-745-2, $34.50.). Order online at http://www.uipress.org, call 410-516-6956, or dial 1-800-537-5487 toll-free. Read more, including the introductory chapter, at http://www.urban.org/books/kidshavingkids

Topics/Tags: | Children and Youth | Education | Families and Parenting

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