, Volume 29, Issue 1, pp 39-57

Intergenerational patterns of teenage fertility

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One of the frequently cited consequences of teen childbearing is the repetition of early births across generations, which thereby perpetuates a cycle of poverty and disadvantage. We use data from the 1988 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), Cycle IV, to examine trends and determinants of the intergenerational teen fertility link for women who reached adolescence between the 1950s and the 1980s. We find that daughters of both white and black teen mothers face significantly higher risks of teen childbearing than daughters of older mothers. We also find, more generally, that patterns of teenage family formation (i.e., both marriage and childbearing behaviors) tend to be repeated intergenerationally. The results suggest that the intrafamily propensity for early childbearing is not inherited biologically, at least not through factors related to the timing of puberty. Rather, the intergenerational patterns appear to operate at least in part through the socioeconomic and family context in which children grow up.

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 1991 annual meeting of the Population Association of America, Washington, DC. Helpful comments were provided by Sara McLanahan, Harriet Presser, Jay Teachman, Leslie Whittington, and three anonymous reviewers. The skillful word processing of Debra Todd is gratefully acknowledged. Please direct all correspondence to the first author.