The amount of education a mother attains can predict her children’s success in reading and math. New research also finds that the success is greater if she had her child later in life.
Children of mothers 19 and older usually enter kindergarten with higher levels of achievement, according to Sandra Tang, a psychology research fellow at the University of Michigan and the study’s lead author.
These kids continue to excel in math and reading at higher levels through eighth grade when compared to children of mothers 18 and younger.
“These results provide compelling evidence that having a child during adolescence has enduring negative consequences for the achievement of the next generation,” Tang says.
The negative consequences of teen mothers not only affect the child born when the mother was an adolescent, but they affect the mother’s subsequent children as well.
Good and bad news
Pamela Davis-Kean, associate professor of psychology and a research associate professor at the Institute for Social Research and Center for Human Growth and Development, says the findings present good news and bad news.
The good news is that the children of teen mothers who continue their education after having children do better academically than children of teen moms who did not continue, she says.
“However, these children—and other children born to the mother when she wasn’t an adolescent—never catch up in achievement across time to children whose mothers had them after completing their education,” Davis-Kean says. “This group continues to carry a risk for lower achievement.”
The study’s data come from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort, a nationally representative sample of children who were first assessed upon entering kindergarten in 1998 and were interviewed through spring 2007.
In 14,279 cases, the children’s math and reading scores were collected in third, fifth, and eighth grades.
Researchers used this data to compare achievement trajectories (kindergarten through eighth grade) of children born either to teen moms (18 or younger) or to adult mothers (19 and older) at the birth of their first child.
The analyses take into account mothers’ educational expectations for their children, the home environment, and other characteristics, such as household income, that may influence children’s achievement.
Trends indicate that mothers who give birth during adolescence have much lower rates of high school completion and college enrollment in comparison to their counterparts who delay pregnancy.
Given that growth in achievement generally stays the same across time for math and reading for all children in the sample, these patterns highlight the importance of investing in early interventions that target adolescent mothers and provide them with the skills needed to promote their children’s learning, Tang says.
The study’s other authors include Meichu Chen, a researcher at ISR’s Research Center for Group Dynamics, and Holly Sexton, a researcher at the University of Texas.
The findings appear in the current issue of the Journal of Research on Adolescence.
Source: University of Michigan