Context: Whether long-term socioeconomic problems experienced by many teenage mothers are a reflection of preexisting disadvantage or are consequences of teenage motherhood per se remains unclear.
Methods: National data on all women born in Sweden from 1941 to 1970 who were younger than age 30 when they first gave birth (N=888,044) were analyzed. The outcome measures, assessed during adulthood, were employment status, socioeconomic status, educational attainment, single motherhood, family size, receipt of disability pension and dependence on welfare. Multiple logistic regression techniques were used to adjust for maternal birth cohort and for socioeconomic background of the woman's family.
Results: Compared with Swedish women who first gave birth at ages 20-24, those who were teenage mothers had significantly increased odds of each unfavorable socioeconomic outcome in later life, even after the data were adjusted for family socioeconomic situation and maternal birth cohort. For example, teenage motherhood was positively associated with low educational attainment (odds ratios of 1.7-1.9, depending on the specific age during adolescence when the woman gave birth), with single living arrangements (odds ratios, 1.5-2.3), with high parity (odds ratios, 2.6-6.0), with collecting a disability pension (odds ratios, 1.6-1.9) and with welfare dependency (odds ratios, 1.9-2.6). These trends were usually linear, with the highest odds ratios corresponding to women who had had their first child at the youngest ages.
Conclusions: A longitudinal analysis of record-linkage data from Sweden supports the view that childbearing during adolescence poses a risk for socioeconomic disadvantage in later life--even for adolescents from relatively comfortable backgrounds and for those who studied beyond elementary school.