Perceived stigmatisation of young mothers: an exploratory study of psychological and social experience

Soc Sci Med. 2008 Jan;66(2):339-48. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2007.09.014. Epub 2007 Nov 5.


Patterns of childbearing vary cross-culturally and historically. In Canada, the average age of women at first birth was 28 in 2003, with almost 50% of all births occurring to women 30 years of age and over. This represents a radical change from the recent past-in 1971 average age at first birth was 22.8. Such changes may impact upon dominant discourse regarding normalcy and deviance with regard to women's fertility behaviour. The effect of shifting demographics and discourse on the psychosocial experience of mothers has not been a focus of study in Canada. We conducted a grounded theory study exploring the psychosocial experience of mothers of varying ages and ethnic backgrounds in Montreal. Thirty-three women partook in either an in-depth individual interview or focus group. By the end of the research, age and ethno-racial status emerged as two key grounded variables affecting women's experience of motherhood. Anglophone Euro-Canadian participants in their early 20s felt strongly stigmatised as mothers, which they attributed to their age at parity. In contrast, older Anglophone Euro-Canadian mothers and Anglophone Afro-Caribbean mothers of any age rarely mentioned stigma as a facet of even minor importance. The perceived stigma permeated the lifeworlds of younger Anglophone Euro-Canadian mothers with negative cognitive, emotional and behavioural effects. We argue that such stigmatisation may serve a penological function to affirm and maintain dominant Anglo-Canadian middle-class cultural norms emphasising the importance of education, careers and delayed childbearing for women. Younger Anglophone Afro-Caribbean mothers may not feel such stigma because early age at parity is more common in the Caribbean sub-culture, which may be relatively more pro-natalist than mainstream Euro-Canadian culture. We conclude by theorising that Anglophone Euro-Canadian mothers in their early 20s may now be experiencing aspects of social exclusion traditionally associated with 'teenage mothers.' This may have a deleterious effect on health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Black People
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cultural Characteristics
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Humans
  • Maternal Age*
  • Mothers*
  • Prejudice
  • Quebec
  • Social Perception*
  • Stereotyping*
  • West Indies / ethnology
  • White People

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