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Has Adolescent Childbearing Been Eclipsed by Nonmarital Childbearing?

Martin, Anne R.; Brooks-Gunn, Jeanne

Adolescent childbearing has received decreasing attention from academics and policymakers in recent years, which may in part reflect the decline in its incidence. Another reason may be its uncoupling from nonmarital childbearing. Adolescent childbearing became problematized only when it began occurring predominantly outside marriage. In recent decades, there have been historic rises in the rate of nonmarital childbearing, and importantly, the rise has been steeper among older mothers than among adolescent mothers. Today, two out of five births are to unmarried women, and the majority of these are to adults, not adolescents. Nonmarital childbearing is in and of itself associated with lower income and poorer maternal and child outcomes. However, unmarried adolescent mothers might face more difficulties than unmarried adult mothers due to their developmental status, education, living arrangements, and long-term prospects for work. If this is true, then the focus on adolescent mothers ought to continue. We suggest several facets of adolescent motherhood deserving of further study, and recommend that future research use unmarried mothers in their early 20s as a realistic comparison group.

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April 4, 2017