ISER Working Paper Series 2003-28
Does a 'teen-birth' have longer-term impacts on the mother? evidence from the 1970 British Cohort Study
01 Oct 2003
There has been considerable concern that having a child as a teenager may have longer-term consequences for the mother, in terms of her standard of living and earnings. These are usually thought to arise because having a child disrupts investment in her earning power, by causing her to curtail her formal education and by keeping her out of work for a time, thereby depriving her of valuable work experience.
It is generally difficult to accurately measure the possible consequences of teen births because we do not know what the woman would have done later in life if she had not had a birth as a teenager. Simple comparisons with women who have children later in life may not identify the consequences properly because the women who had a teen birth may have had different outcomes anyway even if they had not given birth as a teenager.
This paper adopts a novel approach to this problem by exploiting information on women's pregnancy histories to obtain better estimates of the consequences using data from the British 1970 Cohort Study. The use of regnancy information, particularly the incidence and timing of abortions and miscarriages (as well as births) makes it possible to consider three estimators of the average effect of a teen birth on these women later in life.
The results from the last of the three estimators, which is preferred as it uses extra information, suggest that a teen birth has little impact on a woman's qualifications, employment or earnings when they are 30 years of age. These results contrast with previous studies that have not been able to use this estimator. However, this estimator does also suggest that if the woman has a partner at age 30, the partner is less likely to have post-16 education and to be unemployed. The effects are large - about 20 percentage points lower for post-16 education and 20 points lower for being employed. A teen birth also reduces the likelihood of home ownership at age 30.
These results suggest that having a teen birth causes a teenage mother to fare worse in the 'marriage market' in the sense that she partners with men who are more likely to be poorly qualified and more likely to suffer unemployment. This tends to reduce the standard of living of her and her children.