Maternal age at childbirth and risk for ADHD in offspring: a population-based cohort study

Int J Epidemiol. 2014 Dec;43(6):1815-24. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyu204. Epub 2014 Oct 29.


Background: Women who give birth at younger ages (e.g. teenage mothers) are more likely to have children who exhibit behaviour problems, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, it is not clear whether young maternal age is causally associated with poor offspring outcomes or confounded by familial factors.

Methods: The association between early maternal age at childbirth and offspring ADHD was studied using data from Swedish national registers. The sample included all children born in Sweden between 1988 and 2003 (N = 1 495 543), including 30 674 children with ADHD. We used sibling- and cousin-comparisons to control for unmeasured genetic and environmental confounding. Further, we used a children-of-siblings model to quantify the genetic and environmental contribution to the association between maternal age and offspring ADHD.

Results: Maternal age at first birth (MAFB) was associated with offspring ADHD. Teenage childbirth (<20 years) was associated with 78% increased risk of ADHD. The association attenuated in cousin-comparison, suggesting unmeasured familial confounding. The children-of-siblings model indicated that the association between MAFB and ADHD was mainly explained by genetic confounding.

Conclusions: All children born to mothers who bore their first child early in their reproductive lives were at increased risk of ADHD. The association was mainly explained by genetic factors transmitted from mothers to their offspring that contribute to both age at childbirth and ADHD in offspring. Our results highlight the importance of using family-based designs to understand how early life circumstances affect child development.

Keywords: ADHD; family-based design; maternal age.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / epidemiology*
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / genetics
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Maternal Age*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy in Adolescence / statistics & numerical data*
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Siblings / psychology*
  • Sweden / epidemiology
  • Young Adult