January 7, 2012

Teen mothers

The standard assumption is that teen mothers are less likely to have healthy children than older mothers. But my late father-in-law, who knew a lot of teen mothers as a public high school teacher in Chicago, questioned that conventional wisdom. Sure, if a malnourished 16-year-old peasant girl who weighed 90 pounds and had just gone through puberty at 15 got pregnant, that didn't bode well for the baby. But in his experience, the girls who got pregnant at 16 tended to be robust 150-pounders who had gone through puberty at about 11. He hypothesized that, say, NBA power forwards or NFL running backs would tend to have younger mothers than the average man. 

Has anybody done a study along these lines?

54 comments:

Anonymous said...

> The standard assumption is that teen mothers are less likely to have healthy children than older mothers.

If there's a decent empirical case I of course yield to that, but I'm pretty inclined to doubt this.

I seem to recall that the prevalence of many diseases varies appreciably by class. (Some likely reasons are pretty obvious: diseased persons marry/reproduce 'down' relative to what would occur if they were healthy, and there may also be other reasons why disease alleles migrate down-class.)

If my memory in fact isn't mistaken about that, that's the first potential confound I'd look at, since teenage reproduction surely varies strongly by class.

Anonymous said...

Obviously, you aren't Sailer or any of his known sidekicks. Size would be the more salient feature here. That females who are going to be above average on any dimension of size get there at a younger age will be dictated by the fact that most attain full height by age 16. If they were having children at a younger age it would be because males saw them as mature females at a younger age. The fact that they were larger females rather than younger females (bearing hyperactive eggs in their ovaries?) would be the most direct reason they were having larger children. Also, the male parent's traits, both physical and mental, will come into play here. A boy close to her in age will also tend to be an early maturer and one of the tall, big boned ones if that's his offspring on the football field.

What's with all this confounding data not being eliminated? Who are you?

Lugash said...

I am Lugash.

Hispanic birth paradox?

I am Lugash.

anonymous ii said...

This kind of leap of logic leads to ridiculous, often derogatory deductions about the subjects being discussed. It mostly explains why I cringe when some statistics whiz guesses at a correlation between some random factor and an observable phenomenon, in this case, age of mother and size of offspring, then crunches some numbers that seem to prove cause and effect. In and of itself, this process isn't offensive (usually); then the outrageous deductions based on a prior intuition (which means math whizzes do, in fact, think like the stereotypical airhead female) along with a festivus of extrapolations based on the flimsy numerical connection between the data begins.

For instance, you are coming dangerously close to self-parody with this post about 150lb teen mothers. Big boned teen mothers also tend to have large asses, ipso facto, there is as higher correlation between the mother's butt size at any age and the producing of future NBA power forwards than there is between the relatively young maternal age and having large, athletic sons.

In my own observations of pregnant teen girls of any race, however, I'd say a smaller framed female who had matured early was more typical of the population. You're barking madly up the wrong tree. And if you're trying to get at the health of DNA, it's coming across as bizarrely Lamarkian; though if you were to try and make a case for health and longevity in offspring as related to maternal age, it'd be a much more appropriate correlation to query.

Professor Woland said...

About 15 years ago, a couple I know looked into adopting a child. A statistic that is still sticks in my mind was that the average age of the women giving up their child for adoption was around 25. My guess would have been 16 or 17. The reason it is not 16 or 17 is that they are much more likely to live with their parents (probably parent) and have some sort of support system whereas the 25 year old is probably on her own.

Elli said...

There was a study maybe three years ago that black underclass girls did better having babies in their teens.

The researchers attributed it to the younger mothers being healthier - primarily because they were less likely to be obese or diabetic - and to their having the help of older relatives in a way that they did not when they were in their twenties and thirties.

I looked for it a year ago but couldn't find it. It was done in one city, IIRC New York or Chicago.

Roger Chaillet said...

Go to any Amish or Mennonite community.

You will find all the healthy teen mothers with healthy babies you wish on Amish and Mennonite farms.

Or go find an Okie armed with a shotgun. http://abcnews.go.com/US/okla-woman-shoots-kills-intruder911-operators-shoot/story?id=15285605#.TwkedfK8iH8

Anonymous said...

"The standard assumption is that teen mothers are less likely to have healthy children than older mothers."

Never heard anyone say this.

Elli said...

Here's a study from 1995-6 data showing that the infant mortality rate is lower for black adolescent mothers than white adolescents under the age of 18 (lower yet for Mex. Am.). Also that the relative risk comparing adolescents under 18 to 18-19 y.o.s is lower for black girls than it is for white or Mex.Am.

A whole lot of confounding variables there either not separated by race, or not examined. Inadequate or no prenatal care conferred a relative risk only 1.04 greater than adequate care; behavioral factors were far more significant.

Pre-pregnancy health and biological readiness not studied here.

http://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/2027.42/63403/1/154099902762203722.pdf

But not the study I want.

Elli said...

Closer: Urban health and society: interdisciplinary approaches to research and practice
By Nicholas Freudenberg, Susan Klitzman, Susan Saegert

"In fact, 1990 infant mortality rates for teenage mothers in Harlem were half those for older mothers, even thought the preponderance of these 'older' mothers were only in their twenties." p. 141 Google books.

theakinet said...

I saw on TMZ that Justin Bieber's dad got his mom pregnant when he (the dad) was a teenager. So, there ya go.

Anonymous said...

I would guess that teenage mothers would have, on average, less-healthy children because teenage mothers are, on average, more likely to be fuckups in general.

They're not going to a pediatrician, they're not taking vitamins, not getting scanned and screened, etc. They're also more likely to drink/smoke/drug while pregnant.

This is going to lead to higher infant mortality and higher rates of problem births.

Sailer is assuming that the problem with teen pregnancies is that the teenager isn't biologically ready--nonsense. The teen mother is a dumbass, so they're not taking advantage of early 21st century health care, so you're getting mid-20th century health statistics.

Elli upthread finds a study that the Dumbass Teenager Effect is most pronounced among white girls, followed by black then Mexican Makes sense--to be a white pregnant teenager is a lot more unusual than black or hispanic, so a bigger chance that you're a total dumbass.

--Discordiax

William B Swift said...

I can't point to a study, but in the 1980s I read a textbook Nutrition in Pregnancy and Lactation that had a chapter on adolescent pregnancy. It said that what problems their were (mostly low birth weight and its related problems) were the result of inadequate nutrition for both a still maturing mother's body and the fetus's needs. That is, from the mother not eating enough.

And anonymous [1/7/12 9:08 PM], most official statements don't say it, but journalists love to imply that in all their moralizing about "teen mothers."

NOTA said...

I wonder what the best age for parents is, overall, in terms of well being of their kids. I suspect it's a tradeoff between health advantages of having young parents (fewer health problems of the mom catching up with the kid, less chance of Downs and other genetic stuff going wrong, higher probability your parents will be around to raise you instead of dropping dead of a heart attack when you're five, etc.) and maturity/stability effecfs that get better the older their parents are (45 year old parrnts are probably calmer, almost certainly more financially stable--but they might need $50K of fertility treatments to have their one baby).

Reg C├Žsar said...

I am Goulash.

Chicago is in the center of a breadbasket and has some of the most advanced health care facilities on the planet. Why wouldn't teen moms and their babies be healthier there?

I am Goulash.

Anonymous said...

I would be surprised if teen mothers were less healthy, other things being equal. Human females were clearly designed to be breeding once they hit puberty. It is today's women who delay childbearing until their 30s and 40s which seems unhealthy to me.

Anonymous said...

"Here's a study from 1995-6 data showing that the infant mortality rate is lower for black adolescent mothers than white adolescents under the age of 18 (lower yet for Mex. Am.). Also that the relative risk comparing adolescents under 18 to 18-19 y.o.s is lower for black girls than it is for white or Mex.Am."


I'm not wholly convinced about older family members being more available to a an adolescent black female as the deciding factor. As long as there is an opportunity to observe and help more experienced females dealing with young children effectively, a 22 yo black female s/b able to implement that knowledge on her own. A greater willingness to share resources like money and the same dwelling with adolescent mothers may be the real reason they seem to fare better. This would also lead to the conclusion that the resource sharing that goes on in marriage would make the difference for the older mothers.

Being a PT has traditionally been much more stigmatizing in the white community which means a healthier white teen will also be avoiding pregnancy if dating at all. The white teens who do get pregnant will disproportionately have family/drug abuse problems. Adolescent pregnancy being more common and accepted in the black population will mean that many of the mentally and physical healthier teens will be included in the statistics while the reverse will influence the statistics on whites.

Another important factor is if those 20 something black females were abstinent or using birth control in their teens. If they were sexually active, not using protection and not getting pregnant, they likely had health problems that would affect the infant's health.
.

Anonymous said...

Yes. I did a peer reviewed study covering 250 young mothers over a 6-year period. Your father in law ws correct.

Link broken.


Dan in DC

Anonymous said...

Interesting question Steve.

Recently I read some pretty horrifying figures about the age of the menage in African-American girls in the USA.The age has become ridiculously low, I seem to remember age 7 or thereabouts is normal if not average - perhaps someone can correct me.
Anyhow, if the menarche is at age 7, ocmbined with the big, beefy build many African american girls sport, then, speaking as a layman (definitely NO pun intended!), I would assume a teen pregnancy for such a girl not only to be 'normal' but 'healthy' in so far as a young body is stronger and more resilent than an older body.We all know how quickly children bounce back from injury and illness.

Anonymous said...

Another thing Steve.
I am reminded that all the eggs that a woman will ever have were fully developed during *her* gestation in the womb - she never develops any more than stock she was born with.
It is known that eggs deterioate with age ( eg Down's syndrome with 35+ mothers).So from this view a woman's eggs and thus the viability of the child are postively linked with youth, therefore from a biological standpoint early pregnancy, providing the girl is 'strong' enough is recommended.

Anonymous said...

"So from this view a woman's eggs and thus the viability of the child are postively linked with youth, therefore from a biological standpoint early pregnancy, providing the girl is 'strong' enough is recommended."

I certainly don't think we'd lose too many potential children by waiting for the girl to finish high school. Hell, she could get by with one college degree if she'd promise to start having children at age 22. If she's still wanting to procreate after 30, I'm sure it helps to balance out her cellular damage with the sperm from a nice strapping young man in his early 20s. I believe this should be made law.

RandyB said...

"He hypothesized that, say, NBA power forwards or NFL running backs would tend to have younger mothers than the average man."

Yeah, but not too many of their mothers married at 30 after getting a graduate degree and assortively mated.

Anonymous said...

Young mothers will have matured sooner and will have lower IQs. Having lower IQs will mean that they are more robust and hence that they will have more physically robust (or less gracile) children.

Are running backs and power forwards robust or gracile?

ryan said...

Here is the problem with your data. About half of the black kids are aborted each year.

Are they evenly distributed? In other words, do various classes of black teen mothers abort at the same rate?

This reminds me of medical tests where the people who immediately die as a result of the treatment are simply ignored, and those who live for a year or two are studied.

Garbage in - garbage out.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone else find Lugash's taglines extremely obnoxious? Or is it just some cultural reference I am missing?

Anonymous said...

The problem isn't the age but immaturity. A 17 yr old mother is healthier than a 40 yr old having a child. But someone who is 17 and poor may have stupid friends and make dumb choices.

Anonymous said...

Guardian's Zoe Williams to the rescue.


Never mind the data. Teen parents simply must be bad

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/feb/17/teenage-pregnancies-conservatives-numbers-mistake

bbartlog said...

Weight alone is a slightly better predictor of menarche than age alone (though both together is of course still better).
I see that some people are touting the dramatic negative effects of lack of access to prenatal care, scans, screening, and good advice. Sorry, it doesn't matter very much. There are behaviors that will negatively affect the fetus (smoking, heavy drinking) but the girls who do those are pretty advice proof anyway. As for the rest it's at its least useful when applied to a population that's already quite healthy to begin with.
I would be quite certain that if you compared outcomes for teen mom infants to those for *all* older mothers (including the 40+) the teens would come out ahead. Now, for teens versus the 21-29 bracket, I have no idea. But if someone wants to get on a high horse and start condemning teen pregnancy and any associated infant risks as a big public health issue, I think coming back at them with stats for older women would be a good rebuttal.
It is in any case a pretty small problem given the low infant mortality rates we have today.

Anonymous said...

I don't know, but this teen mother seems to have her shit together, even if the media is not sure she should have shot the low-life to protect herself.

Funny how the media is willing to throw people under the bus like that.

sabril said...

All things being equal, it's better to be conceived from a 17 year old egg than a 25 year old egg.

Elli said...

Life expectancy is linked to mother's age; first born children more likely to be centenarians. Fresh eggs and telomeres, better health lifelong?

http://longevity-science.org/pdf/Journalism-2011.pdf

OTOH, being able to have children at an advanced age could well be linked to a long life expectancy for the parents and the children, even if the earlier born children would still have the advantage.

10-15 years ago, the NYT had an article about an economist? still vigorous in his nineties, born to a father in his sixties and a mother in her forties, the father in turn born to a father in his sixties, and the grandfather knew the Marquis de Lafayette.

IIRC and I may not, father and son were only children, and son had no children.

Elli said...

While nearly half of black girls have some breast development before the age of eight (ten percent of white girls), average age of menarche is 12.2 compared to 12.9 for white girls, not a large difference.

older study quoted in this article:

http://www.utilis.net/Morning%20Topics/Gynecology/Adolescent%20Menstruation.pdf

Anonymous said...

The vast majority of teen mothers are 18-19 and their kids are healthier than the kids of women 30+ years old. Also, delaying the first pregnancy till after age thirty increases a woman's lifetime risk of breast cancer to the insanely high rate of about 12% instead of the merely extremely high of about 6% if she is 19 or younger.

First full term pregnancy at age 18-20 is just about optimal for mother and baby.

So do women a favor, date 16-17 year old girls and marry them as soon as they turn 18. What's not to love?

S.Anonyia said...

"First full term pregnancy at age 18-20 is just about optimal for mother and baby."

Health-wise it is optimal, but as far as society goes it is not. Most people who have children that young are screw-ups, with two exceptions: if they are religious and early marriage is part of their culture, or they are young military couples. Hardly anyone who has kids that young is married or even educated, I can assure you that considering I hail from an area where it seems like that is around the average age for childbearing. All I can think of, when I see these young mothers who waste government loans on worthless community college degrees while their lowlife boyfriends dabble with dead-end part-time jobs, is that they are slowly destroying society and guzzling money away from more productive people, the same people who are unfortunately forced to delay childbearing precisely because of the burdens unmarried young parents on the system. Not to mention that but the young mothers often dump their kids on grandparents while they go out and party. And it's not just minorities, it's really common with whites too these days.

Defeated said...

I hope the white teen pregnancy rate skyrockets and I hope the new quasi or semi-families avail themselves of every benefit they can muster as a sort of negative revolution.
Model yourselves after the Orthodox communities who exploit the system without compunction.
Don't be lazy. Make sure you live within the parameters to keep getting benefits. It doesn't matter if you own anything as long as you have use of it. Let elder relatives supply you with the luxuries of life. A generation or two of this revolution will sink the leviathan, but at least the goods will have been distributed equally. And equality is everything, isn't it.

Anonymous said...

"The standard assumption is that teen mothers are less likely to have healthy children than older mothers."


For certain values of the word "teenager", I can well believe this assumption. Not for 18 or 19 year olds though.

Anonymous said...

I don't know, but this teen mother seems to have her shit together, even if the media is not sure she should have shot the low-life to protect herself.


That teen mother was married to a man in his late fifties. She's currently a widow since he died of cancer.

Wandrin said...

I'd say the (physical) advantages of youth outweigh the (mental) disadvantages when it comes to baby health.

The problems arise later as the child gets older when other characteristics of teen mothers - life experience, finances etc - are more important than her basic health.

In the past these weaknesses were compensated for by older female relatives living close by and the father generally being a lot older.

It's the fathers being teenagers as well that's the bigger problem.

Anonymous said...

Roger Chaillet's Okie:

McKinley told ABC News Oklahoma City affiliate KOCO that she quickly got her 12 gauge, went into her bedroom and got a pistol, put the bottle in the baby's mouth and called 911. . . . When Martin kicked in the door and came after her with the knife, the teen mom shot and killed the 24-year-old. Police are calling the shooting justified.

Awesome!

And she is cute as well.

Ray Sawhill said...

I recall reading about a study, pre-web, maybe done in Denmark, that concluded that, all else being equal, teen moms and their infants do better than older moms and their infants. Enraged a lot of people, though it obviously makes a lot of intuitive sense. At what age do females in the ancestral environment tend to give birth? Couldn't Google the study up, though.

FWIW, I find Lugash's schtick hilarious.

svigor said...

"The standard assumption is that teen mothers are less likely to have healthy children than older mothers."

Never heard anyone say this.


Then you've never read any of the (reams) of boilerplate on teen pregnancy. Go Google "teen pregnancy" adding modifiers like "risk" or whatever.

http://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/2027.42/63403/1/154099902762203722.pdf

Does that study include the actual statistics involved? I.e., rate of miscarriage, rate of abortion, rate of healthy births, broken down by age? I looked for numbers like these years ago and it was like looking for hen's teeth. The agenda seemed to include sweeping those numbers under the rug, probably because 14 year olds are perfectly capable of squirting out healthy kids, with negligible increased risk. I saw all the signs of statistical chicanery I'd been taught to recognize arguing about HBD with idiots and charlatans for years. E.g., the lit always had "x is 50% more likely to y than z is" type assertions. Yeah, well, .15% is 50% bigger than .1%...

Anonymous said...

"The problems arise later as the child gets older when other characteristics of teen mothers - life experience, finances etc - are more important than her basic health."

I speculate that In the past two things were in operation that would've made teens effective as parents: They had siblings so could learn from watching their own parents raising a family and parenthood at an early age was typical so teens could learn from each other. Sad, but true, what we observe are mostly teen mothers from dysfunctional families and communities. We should be competent to parent by age 18 easily but we've been telling our best and brightest that despite our academic expectations for them, they'd be lousy parents and providers until much later. I suggest we're also lazily and perfunctorily taking a future orientation wrt to education that's costing us way more resources than it's worth. If we were ever getting the best results by staying in school well into our 20s, this approach has devolved into mere procrastination and escapism for many.

More evidence for this ever preparing yet never ready mentality is that even the A students in high school couldn't turn around and do a good job of teaching/tutoring the courses they've already completed. When you think about it, why should anyone need four more years of education to teach what they've supposedly already learned.

Wandrin said...

"this approach has devolved into mere procrastination and escapism for many."

I think it's more of a fraud than that. The educational establishment are effectively a cartel with a monopoly on selling accreditation for high-paying jobs and they're gouging the market to discover the highest price people will pay.

Eventually they'll find the point where the financial cost outweighs the benefits.

I think they're roughly at that point now and way beyond it if you take deficit spending into account.

Defeated said...

Anonymous 12:36 makes such a good point, he/she should put on a pseudonym to which we can refer.

Defeated said...

Maybe "good enoughism" is evolutionarily superior to perfectionism.
Wandrin is right on, learning institutions profit instilling feelings of inadequacy.
On the other hand, the military, with immediate needs, must see feelings of inadequacy, and the training and encouragement to combat them, as a burden, so they tell you that you're good enough, even if they are not sure.
It appears that military personnel are good enough to have relatively young and large families.

Anonymous said...

"It appears that military personnel are good enough to have relatively young and large families."

Yet highly likely to produce offspring who are psychopaths so in terms of passing on their own highly valuable genes, they're successful; but the added benefit to society, not so much.

Defeated said...

"Yet highly likely to produce offspring who are psychopaths,"

You're right. Nonexistence is a much brighter option.

Maya said...

"All things being equal, it's better to be conceived from a 17 year old egg than a 25 year old egg."

Yes, I agree. We can't talk about teen mothers as one category because the body goes through a lot of changes during those years. I bet that most women are more biologically suited to have children at the age of 16-19 than in their mid to late twenties. However, I'd also bet that there are a lot of girls out there who haven't reached a physical state that is optimal for childbirth at the age of 13-15.

Maya said...

Anonymous @ 12:36

I don't think most people go to college, put off having kids to escape reality. I really, really wanted a baby since I was 11 (which is about when it became possible for me). I babysat every kid in the neighborhood, read books about pregnancies, looked at boys and pictured them as fathers- the works. And I am absolutely sure that I would have made a responsible, loving mother, even as a preteen. The reason I still don't have a child in my mid-twenties is that it's not all about me. My child deserves a safe neighborhood, a good school (where teachers don't have to run classrooms like prison cells, just to keep everyone safe, and where he won't get the wrong idea of what is normal behavior) and parents with some job security. Does that make me a perfectionist? I can cook healthy meals cheaply, take him camping instead of a vacation in Europe and buy him used musical instruments on ebay, but I refuse to lower my standards when it comes to safety and modest financial/health insurance security. A lot of people my age that I know share my views.

As for education, it's not a choice. Of course, most of us understand that our BA/BS degrees didn't make us more equipped to be productive. I didn't need mine to do my job. However, it doesn't matter what we understand, if no one will hire us without that piece of paper. I'm, currently, wrapping up a Master's in Teaching, and I can honestly say that, while maintaining a 4.0, I've learned nothing. But to keep my current job beyond three years or to be eligible to apply for a teaching job outside my district, I need this otherwise useless degree. Passing the bar exam without a law degree doesn't qualify one to practice law in most states. A couple of friends were able to start in the fields that interested them only after they acquired MBAs, and there is a known glass ceiling in many corporations for those without an MBA degree. It's the same situation for the friends who want to work for a university. They have to acquire a master's in higher education administration after several years, if they want to advance beyond entry level. So, yes, it takes people who desire a middle class lifestyle longer to get situated. That's the law of the land.

jz said...

I once tried to PubMed the original research to support the dangers of teen pregnancies. Those studies were from Bangladesh.

jz said...

Teen fathers also have smarter, less autistic, less schizophrenic babies than older fathers. Google: "paternal age intelligence", and "Paternal age autism", and Paternal age effect".

Charlotte said...

"Most teen mothers had husbands (or whatever) who were in their 20s. probably because 14 year olds are perfectly capable of squirting out healthy kids,"

Actually it's men who "squirt" babies out; the process cannot be described quite so dismissively for girls/women. One well known book on narcissism noted the "flattening" effect that teenaged mothers had on their children. Not all of course, but generally. You are not ready, psychologically, at that age, to do mothering, much less fathering.
You are still trying to figure out who you are, to use a cliche because I'm too tired to find another phraseology.
I avoided this thread because i knew it would feature mostly middle-aged men opining on the desirability of teenaged mothers (obviously preceded by teenaged sex), and this always makes me queasy. And no, it's not because I'm jealous of 14 yr olds. It's because I was 14 once.

But yes, In the modern world, the risk to a 14 yr old is indeed realtively slight because they can always cut the baby out if they need to, under anesthesia, or supply intravenous to girl experiencing toxemia, which I've seen one go through for almost 7 months of the pregnancy. When you are doing this sort of thing in a village in Pakistan, pretty much on your own except for the local midwife whose methods are unchanged for thousands of yrs, it's another story.
In a village there, a 14 yr old girl undergoing a difficult pregnancy was comforted by her mother who assured her that all "women" go through this. She answered, "But I am not a woman; I am a girl." The girl died shortly after, and I don't think the baby survived either.

Most of these teen mothers with their healthy kids that you're extolling, had husbands (or whatever) who were also young, if not as young. That makes a difference too.
Now who among you were willing to marry, at 16-28 or so, your 15 yr old girlfriend until death do you part?
What a bunch of armchair childbearers.

Defeated said...

"I avoided this thread because i knew it would feature mostly middle-aged men opining on the desirability of teenaged mothers (obviously preceded by teenaged sex), and this always makes me queasy. And no, it's not because I'm jealous of 14 yr olds. It's because I was 14 once"

Charlotte,
I think there might have been one joke about having a young girlfriend. Strange how you picked that as being the dominant vibe. Why pick on Steve readers? Go to some third world dating website and give them a scolding. They're the ones that need it.

Save the tragic cautionary tales for the Arabs, Mexicans and West Virginians who need them. These are the kind of stories that valedictorians hear and then never have kids.

Don't let those nasty cultures in here.

Anonymous said...

"... if they want to advance beyond entry level. So, yes, it takes people who desire a middle class lifestyle longer to get situated. That's the law of the land."

This is only true if you study something impractical. Even not choosing a business degree wisely will hold you back. If you were motivated, however, you could be economically viable at age 18 and have enough to share with offspring before you hit 25. Another painful truth is that most of what we do the first few years of college could've been done the last two years of high school if you're actually college material. So, yes it is about delay, whether it's to postpone adult discipline or in order to indulge in status seeking.