Unwanted childbearing, health, and mother-child relationships

J Health Soc Behav. 1999 Sep;40(3):231-57.


This paper investigates the relationships among unwanted childbearing, health, and mother-child relationships. We hypothesize that unwanted childbearing affects mother-child relationships in part because of the physical and mental health consequences of unwanted childbearing. Impaired mental health hampers women's interaction with their infants, and these poor neonatal relationships translate into poor mother-adult child relationships. Using the Intergenerational Panel Study of Mothers and Children--a 31-year longitudinal survey of a probability sample of 1,113 mother-child pairs begun in 1961--we demonstrate that mothers with unwanted births have lower quality relationships with their children from late adolescence (age 18) throughout early adulthood (ages 23 and 31). Furthermore, these lower quality relationships are not limited to the child born as a result of the unwanted pregnancy; all the children in the family suffer. Using the 1987-88 wave of the National Survey of Families and Households, a survey of a national probability sample of U.S. households, we show that mothers with unwanted births suffer from higher levels of depression and lower levels of happiness. We also demonstrate that they spank their young children more and spend less leisure time with them. We conclude that experiencing unwanted childbearing reduces the time and attention that mothers give their young children and that these early mother-child interactions set the stage for long-term, lower quality relationships.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Unwanted*
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Mental Health
  • Mother-Child Relations*
  • Parenting*
  • Pregnancy