Consequences for children of their birth planning status

Fam Plann Perspect. Nov-Dec 1995;27(6):228-34, 245.


Of 1,327 children younger than two in 1986 whose mothers were participants in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 61% were wanted, 34% were mistimed and 5% were unwanted. Planning status is associated with the level of developmental resources the child receives at home: At ages one and older, mistimed and unwanted children score significantly lower on a scale measuring opportunity for skill development and on a scale measuring nonauthoritarian parenting style than their wanted peers; by preschool age, they also have significantly less-positive relationships with their mothers. Measures of the direct effects of planning status on development also indicate that mistimed and unwanted children are at a disadvantage: Those younger than two have higher mean scores for fearfulness than wanted infants and lower scores for positive affect; unintended preschoolers score lower on a measure of receptive vocabulary.

PIP: This study is different in that intendedness of the infant was determined during the pregnancy or soon after the birth and that proximate determinants of child development (resources in the family environment) and controls were accounted for. Outcomes are reported in infancy and in preschool years. Data are based on the follow-up surveys of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth in 1986 and 1988 among a nationally representative cohort of men and women aged 14-21 years and children born to women in the original sample in 1979. The study sample includes 1327 children younger than 2 years in 1986 (61% wanted, 34% mistimed, and 5% unwanted). Findings reveal that planning status was significantly related to resources provided to children aged older than one year, but not to children aged under two years. Differences in developmental disadvantage between wanted children and unwanted or mistimed children were evident by preschool age. Unwanted children aged one year and older had fewer opportunities for skill development and more authoritarian parenting styles than mistimed or unwanted children. Mistimed children had fewer opportunities for skill development than wanted children. The addition of controls changed some strong bivariate relationships. When compositional characteristics of the mother are not fixed, planning status may reflect a mother's expectation about her ability to provide a favorable environment for the child. Early child motor, social, and cognitive development scores did not vary by planning status. Temperament of the child measures reported by the mother were small and insignificantly related to planning status. Although receptive vocabulary was less developed among mistimed and unplanned preschoolers, the effects were mediated by development resources and differences in family environment. Low family income was associated with fewer resources. One caveat was that the analysis included only mistimed and unwanted children born to mothers aged in their mid-20s, who may be better able to compensate for unintendedness than adolescent mothers. Mistimed and unwanted children are viewed as at risk due to the greater likelihood of being born to minority mothers with little education, of having a less favorable family environment with economic disadvantage, and few developmental resources.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Birth Intervals
  • Child Behavior Disorders
  • Child Development*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Child, Unwanted* / psychology*
  • Child, Unwanted* / statistics & numerical data
  • Ethnic Groups
  • Family Planning Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Intelligence
  • Male
  • Mother-Child Relations
  • Parenting
  • Risk Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Temperament
  • United States