Explaining the Early Development and Health of Teen Mothers’ Children1

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Abstract

The transmission of social disadvantage from teenage mothers to their children is well established, but when and why do these disparities emerge in the early life course? Using nationally representative data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort, this study investigated the relationship between teen childbearing and children’s cognition, behavior, and health from infancy through preschool. Developmental disparities between teenage mothers’ children and others were largely nonexistent at nine months but accumulated with age. Having a teenage mother predicted compromised development across several domains by age four and a half. Our conceptual model expected preexisting disadvantage, ongoing resource disadvantage, and compromised parenting quality to explain the association between teen childbearing and child outcomes. Preexisting social disadvantage accounted for much of this relationship. Financial, social, and material resources in the child’s household partially or fully explained each of the remaining significant relationships between teenage childbearing and child outcomes. Parenting quality explained a smaller proportion of these relationships than did resources, and these factors’ influences were largely independent. Because children of teenage mothers with a modest set of resources were not predicted to have compromised development, resources provided in early childhood may have the potential to reduce developmental disparities for teenage mothers’ children.

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