Skip to main content

Does teenage childbearing reduce investment in human capital?


This paper estimates the causal effect of teenage childbearing on educational attainment using two cohorts of Australian twins and their relatives. Our main finding is that the negative effect of teenage childbearing on educational attainment appears to be small. We find no difference in educational attainment between teen mothers and their identical twin sisters. Data on the relatives of the twins enable us to compare a teen mother with both her twin sister and her other sibling sisters. When twin sisters are used as a control group instead of sibling sisters, the estimated difference in educational attainment is much smaller.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. The highest rates for the developed countries are found in the US (52 per 1,000), UK (31), New Zealand (30), Canada (20) and Australia (18) (Unicef 2001, data for 1998).

  2. In column (3), we do not control for age because of missing values. Including age, which lowers the sample size, does not change the results.

  3. In case of missing values, we included the value of the other twin. In case both values were missing, we included the mean of the sample of identical twins. In total, we imputed values for 45 women. The point estimate for the pooled sample is slightly higher without the imputation of the missing values (0.072).

  4. We did not repeat this analysis for the younger cohort because in 1996, educational attainment has been measured with a different scale.

  5. Another approach would be to use an instrument specific to an individual twin. We attempted to use the difference in age at menarche within groups of sisters as an instrument for the difference in teenage childbearing within groups of sisters. However, this yields a weak first-stage relationship (the F-value of the excluded instrument is smaller than 2). In addition, the standard IV-approach for individuals using age at menarche as an instrument yields no evidence for a negative effect of teenage childbearing on educational attainment. All estimates are statistically insignificant.

  6. See Webbink et al. (2008b) for a detailed description of the conduct disorder score and the underlying items.


  • Aigner DJ (1973) Regression with a binary independent variable subject to errors of observation. J Econom 1(1):49–59

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • American Psychiatric Association (1994) Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 4th edn. American Psychiatric Association, Washington

    Google Scholar 

  • Ashcraft A, Lang K (2006) The consequences of teenage childbearing. NBER working paper, no. 12485

  • Ashenfelter O, Krueger AB (1994) Estimates of the economic return to schooling from a new sample of twins. Am Econ Rev 84(5):1157–1173

    Google Scholar 

  • Black SE, Devereux PJ, Salvanes KJ (2005) The more the merrier? The effect of family size and birth order on children’s education. Q J Econ 120(4):669–700

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bound J, Solon G (1999) Double trouble: on the value of twins-based estimation of the returns to schooling. Econ Educ Rev 18(2):169–182

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bradbury B (2006) The impact of young motherhood on education, employment and marriage. SPRC discussion paper, no. 148

  • Card JJ, Wise LL (1978) Teenage mothers and teenage fathers: the impact of early childbearing on parents’personal and professional lives. Fam Plann Perspect 10(4):100–2005

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Chevalier A, Viitanen TK (2003) The long-run labour market consequences of teenage motherhood in Britain. J Popul Econ 16(2):323–343

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Currie J, Stabile M (2006) Child mental health and human capital accumulation: the case of ADHD. J Health Econ 25(6):1094–1118

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Currie J, Stabile M (2007) Mental health in childhood and human capital. NBER working paper, WP 13217

  • Ermisch J, Pevalin DJ (2003) Does a teen-birth have longer-term impacts on the mother? Evidence from the 1970 British Cohort Study. ISER working paper, no. 2003–28

  • Ermisch J, Pevalin DJ (2005) Early motherhood and later partnerships. J Popul Econ 18:469–489

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fahy K (1995) Poverty, welfare and single teenage mothers: a primary health care concern. Aust Coll Midwives Inc J 8(1):19–23

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fletcher J, Wolfe BL (2008) Child mental health and human capital accumulation: the case of ADHD revisited. J Health Econ 27(3):794–800

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Geronimus AT, Korenman S (1992) The socioeconomic consequences of teen childbearing reconsidered. Q J Econ 107(4):1187–1214

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hofferth S, Moore K (1979) Early childbearing and later economic wellbeing. Am Sociol Rev 44(5):784–815

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hoffman S (2003) The socio-economic effects of teen childbearing re-considered: a re-analysis of the teen miscarriage experiment. Working paper no. 2003–08, Department of Economics, University of Delaware

  • Holmlund H (2005) Estimating long-term consequences of teenage childbearing, an examination of the siblings approach. J Hum Resour 40(3):716–743

    Google Scholar 

  • Hotz V, McElroy JSW, Sanders SG (2005) Teenage childbearing and its life cycle consequences. J Hum Resour 40(3):638–715

    Google Scholar 

  • Kane TJ, Rouse CE, Staiger D (1999) Estimating returns to schooling when schooling is misreported. Working paper 419, Princeton University

  • Klepinger D, Lundberg S, Plotnick R (1999) How does adolescent fertility affect the human capital and wages of young women? J Hum Resour 34(3):421–448

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Levine ID, Painter G (2003) The schooling costs of teenage out-of-wedlock childbearing: analysis with a within-school propensity score matching estimator. Rev Econ Stat 85(4):884–900

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McElroy SW (1996) Early childbearing, high school completion and college enrolment, evidence from 1980 high school sophomores. Econ Educ Rev 15(3):303–324

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Miller PW, Mulvey C, Martin N (1995) What do twin studies reveal about the economic returns to education? A comparison of Australian and U.S. findings. Am Econ Rev 85(3):586–599

    Google Scholar 

  • Miller PW, Mulvey C, Martin N (2006) The return to schooling: estimates from a sample of young Australian twins. Labour Econ 13:571–587

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ribar DC (1994) Teenage fertility and high school completion. Rev Econ Stat 76:413–424

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ribar DC (1999) The socioeconomic consequences of young women’s childbearing: reconciling disparate evidence. J Popul Econ 12(4):547–565

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rosenzweig MR, Wolpin KI (1988) Heterogeneity, intrafamily distribution, and child health. J Hum Resour 23(4):437–461

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Upchurch D, McCarthy J (1990) The timing of a first birth and high school completion. Am Sociol Rev 55(2):224–234

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Webbink HD, Martin NG, Visscher PM (2008a) Does teenage childbearing increase smoking, drinking and body size? J Health Econ 27(4):888–903

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Webbink HD, Vujic S, Koning P, Martin NG (2008b) The effect of childhood conduct disorder on human capital, CPB Discussion Paper, no. 113

Download references


We gratefully acknowledge comments from Helena Holmlund, Pierre Koning, Suncica Vujic, Erik Plug, and anonymous referees. Martin and Visscher were supported by grants from NIAAA (USA) and NHMRC (Australia).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Dinand Webbink.

Additional information

Responsible editor: Junsen Zhang



Table 10 Estimates of the effect of teenage childbearing on educational attainment for the sample of mothers only

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Webbink, D., Martin, N.G. & Visscher, P.M. Does teenage childbearing reduce investment in human capital?. J Popul Econ 24, 701–730 (2011).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Teenage childbearing
  • Education attainment
  • Twins

Jel Classification

  • I18