Context: In recent studies, the effects of teenage childbearing on the schooling of young women have been smaller than those in earlier research. The discrepancy has been attributed to the use in the later studies of controls for unmeasured differences between young women who start childbearing early and those who do not, but could instead reflect changes in the effect of early childbearing over time.
Methods: Data from the National Longitudinal Survey of the Labor Market Experience of Youth and the Panel Study of Income Dynamics are used to identify the reasons for this difference. Logistic regression, ordinary least-squares regression and fixed-effects models examine the impact of early childbearing on rates of high school graduation and college attendance, and number of years of schooling completed through age 29.
Results: The two data sets show a significant negative impact of a teenage birth on rates and years of completed schooling. For example, teenage mothers complete 1.9-2.2 fewer years of education than do women who delay their first birth until age 30 or older. Moreover, compared with women who give birth at age 30 or older, teenage mothers have odds of high school completion 10-12% as high and odds of postsecondary schooling 14-29% as high. Unobserved differences between young mothers and their childless peers reduce, but do not eliminate, the effects of early births. Effects on high school completion declined in recent periods because more young women completed high school, regardless of the timing of their first birth. However, the gap between early and later childbearers in postsecondary school attendance widened from 27 to 44 percentage points between the early 1960s and the early 1990s.
Conclusions: Given the current importance of a college education, teenage childbearers today are at least as disadvantaged as those of past generations.