Teen motherhood in cross-cultural perspective

Ann Hum Biol. Sep-Oct 2010;37(5):613-28. doi: 10.3109/03014460903563434.


Teen motherhood is the prevalent childbearing pattern in most traditional populations. Yet early motherhood is associated with negative biological and social outcomes in the developed world. We review the teen pregnancy literature in light of this discrepancy, emphasizing two core debates. The first debate centers on whether teens have poor pregnancy outcomes compared to older women, and whether negative outcomes are biologically based. Second, we consider the debate over the confounding effects of socio-economic conditions associated with being young. When teens are considered as a group, results are inconsistent across studies. When teens are disaggregated by age, the strongest finding across studies is that biological risk is concentrated in only the youngest of mothers. Negative consequences are associated with teen motherhood not because of chronological age per se, but because of relative developmental maturity and the availability of non-maternal support. In most traditional societies as well as in some sectors of developed societies, teen motherhood occurs within the context of extended kin networks and is subsidized through reliable economic and childcare assistance. Child-rearing practices, rather than pregnancy per se, may explain much of the discrepancy in the prevalence, success and attitudes toward teen motherhood in traditional and developed societies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child Rearing / ethnology*
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Maternal Age*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Outcome / ethnology*
  • Pregnancy in Adolescence / ethnology*
  • Sexual Maturation*
  • Social Environment
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Young Adult