Skip to main content

Time-Varying Outcomes Associated With Maternal Age at First Birth



The operational definition of early motherhood remains equivocal across the literature. In response to the tendency of using age at first birth as a categorical predictor in previous research, the time-varying relationship between maternal age at first birth and socioeconomic and parenting/home outcomes was examined using longitudinal data.


Time-varying effect models were employed to examine educational attainment, home/parenting quality scores, and annual income as a function of age at first birth, controlling for race/ethnicity and presence of the father in the household during child ages 6–9.


Peak scores for outcomes were observed around maternal age 30 in all three models. Parenting/home quality improved with maternal age at first birth until mothers reached the late 20’s, when scores appeared to level out. Highest grade completed increased until just after age 30. Total annual income increased considerably until about age 30 then leveled out, although the plateau may be due to reduced sample size at the most advanced maternal ages. Father presence in the household and race/ethnicity were associated with all three outcomes.


Overall, later maternal age at first birth was associated with incrementally increasing parenting/home quality, greater educational attainment, and higher annual income. The results highlight the loss of information when utilizing categorical age groups to predict outcomes and suggest that optimal socioeconomic and parenting outcomes increase with age, leveling out around age 30. Researchers should consider curvilinear patterns of outcomes related to maternal age at first birth rather than rely on categorical comparisons of age groups.

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

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3


  1. Addo, F. R., Sassler, S., & Williams, K. (2016). Reexamining the association of maternal age and marital status at first birth with youth educational attainment. Journal of Marriage and Family, 78(5), 1252–1268.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Aitken, Z., Hewitt, B., Keogh, L., LaMontagne, A. D., Bentley, R., & Kavanagh, A. M. (2016). Young maternal age at first birth and mental health later in life: does the association vary by birth cohort? Social Science & Medicine, 157, 9–17.

  3. Artis, J. E. (2007). Maternal cohabitation and child well‐being among kindergarten children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69(1), 222–236.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Baylin, J. (2016). The parenting brain. In J. Alper & D. Howe (Eds.), Assessing adoptive parents, foster carers and kinship carers: improving analysis and understanding of parenting capacity (pp. 131–140). London, UK: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

  5. Becker, G. S., Hubbard, W. H., & Murphy, K. M. (2010). The market for college graduates and the worldwide boom in higher education of women. The American Economic Review, 100(2), 229.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Berger, L. M., & McLanahan, S. S. (2015). Income, relationship quality, and parenting: Associations with child development in two‐parent families. Journal of Marriage and Family, 77(4), 996–1015.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Black, A. Y., Fleming, N. A., & Rome, E. S. (2012). Pregnancy in adolescents. Adolescent Medicine: State of the Art Reviews, 23(1), 123–138.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Boden, J. M., Fergusson, D. M., & Horwood, L. J. (2008). Early motherhood and subsequent life outcomes. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 49(2), 151–160.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Bornstein, M. H., Putnick, D. L., Suwalsky, J. T., & Gini, M. (2006). Maternal chronological age, prenatal and perinatal history, social support, and parenting of infants. Child Development, 77(4), 875–892.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Bradley, R. H., & Caldwell, B. M. (1979). Home observation for measurement of the environment: a revision of the preschool scale. American Journal of Mental Deficiency, 84(3), 235–244.

  11. Brody, G. H., & Flor, D. L. (1998). Maternal resources, parenting practices, and child competence in rural, single‐parent African American families. Child Development, 69(3), 803–816.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Brooks-Gunn, J., & Furstenberg, F. F. (1986). The children of adolescent mothers: physical, academic, and psychological outcomes. Developmental Review, 6(3), 224–251.

  13. Brown, S. L. (2004). Family structure and child well‐being: the significance of parental cohabitation. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66(2), 351–367.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. (2012). National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 cohort, 1979–2010 (rounds 1–24). Produced and distributed by the Center for Human Resource Research, The Ohio State University. Columbus, OH.

  15. Camberis, A. L., McMahon, C. A., Gibson, F. L., & Boivin, J. (2014). Age, psychological maturity, and the transition to motherhood among English-speaking Australian women in a metropolitan area. Developmental Psychology, 50(8), 2154.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Campbell, L. A., & Parcel, T. L. (2010). Children’s home environments in Great Britain and the United States. Journal of Family Issues, 31(5), 559–584.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). Reproductive health: teen pregnancy. Accessed Feb 2017.

  18. Chen, X., Wen, S. W., Fleming, N., Demissie, K., Rhoads, G. G., & Walker, M. (2007). Teenage pregnancy and adverse birth outcomes: a large population based retrospective cohort study. International Journal of Epidemiology, 36(2), 368–373.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Chevalier, A., & Viitanen, T. K. (2003). The long-run labour market consequences of teenage motherhood in Britain. Journal of Population Economics, 16, 323–343.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Coll, C. G., & Pachter, L. M. (2002). Ethnic and minority parenting. In M. H. Bornstein (Ed.), Handbook of parenting: Social conditions and applied parenting (pp. 1–20). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

  21. DeNavas-Walt, C., & Proctor, B. D. (2014). Income and poverty in the United States: 2013.

  22. Driscoll, A. (2014). Adult outcomes of teen mothers across birth cohorts. Demographic Research, 30, 1277–1292.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Eshbaugh, E. M. (2008). Teen mothers: marriage, cohabitation, and educational achievement. Journal of Family Social Work, 11(1), 3–16.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Fergusson, D. M., & Woodward, L. J. (1999). Maternal age and educational and psychosocial outcomes in early adulthood. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 40(3), 479–489.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Fletcher, J. M., & Wolfe, B. L. (2009). Education and labor market consequences of teenage childbearing evidence using the timing of pregnancy outcomes and community fixed effects. Journal of Human Resources, 44(2), 303–325.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Gibb, S. J., Fergusson, D. M., Horwood, J., & Boden, J. M. (2014). Early motherhood and long-term economic outcomes: Findings from a 30-year longitudinal study. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 25(1), 162–172.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Hawkes, D. & Joshi, H. (2012) Age at motherhood and child development: evidence from the UK millennium cohort. National Institute Economic Review, 222(1), 52–66.

  28. Heard-Garris, N. J., Cale, M., Camaj, L., Hamati, M. C., & Dominguez, T. P. (2018). Transmitting Trauma: A systematic review of vicarious racism and child health. Social Science & Medicine, 199, 230–240.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Hobcraft, J., & Kiernan, K. (2001). Childhood poverty, early motherhood and adult social exclusion. British Journal of Sociology, 52(3), 495–517.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Hofferth S. L. (1987). The children of teen childbearers. In S. Hofferth & C. Hayes (Eds), Risking the future. (pp. 174–206). Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

  31. Jeon, S. H., Kalb, G., & Vu, H. (2008). Teenage mothers’ income support, education and paid work: The dynamics of welfare participation. Final Report for DEEWR. Melbourne, Australia: Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research.

  32. Kane, J. B., Morgan, S. P., Harris, K. M., & Guilkey, D. K. (2013). The educational consequences of teen childbearing. Demography, 50(6), 2129–2150.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Karreman, A., Van Tuijl, C., van Aken, M. A., & Deković, M. (2006). Parenting and self‐regulation in preschoolers: a meta‐analysis. Infant and Child Development, 15(6), 561–579.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Kearney, M. S., & Levine, P. B. (2007). Socioeconomic disadvantage and early childbearing. In The problems of disadvantaged youth: an economic perspective (pp. 181–209). Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

  35. Lanza, S. T., Vasilenko, S. A., & Russell, M. A. (2016). Time-varying effect modeling to address new questions in behavioral research: examples in marijuana use. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 30(8), 939.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Lee, D. (2010). The early socioeconomic effects of teenage childbearing: a propensity score matching approach. Demographic Research, 23, 697–736.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Li, R., Dziak, J. D., Tan, X., Huang, L. Wagner, A. T., & Yang, J. (2017). TVEM (time-varying effect modeling) SAS macro users’ guide (Version 3.1.1). University Park: The Methodology Center, Penn State.

  38. Lomanowska, A. M., Boivin, M., Hertzman, C., & Fleming, A. S. (2017). Parenting begets parenting: a neurobiological perspective on early adversity and the transmission of parenting styles across generations. Neuroscience, 342, 120–139.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Maggi, S., Irwin, L. J., Siddiqi, A., & Hertzman, C. (2010). The social determinants of early child development: an overview. Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, 46(11), 627–635.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Manning, W. D. (2015). Cohabitation and child wellbeing. The Future of Children, 25(2), 51–66.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Mathews, T. J., & Hamilton, B. E. (2016). Mean age of mothers is on the rise: United States, 2000–2014. NCHS Data Brief, (232), 1–8.

  42. Meins, E. (2013). Sensitive attunement to infants’ internal states: operationalizing the construct of mind-mindedness. Attachment & Human Development, 15(5–6), 524–544.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Miller, A. R. (2011). The effects of motherhood timing on career path. Journal of Population Economics, 24(3), 1071–1100.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Mott, F. L. (2004). The utility of the HOME-SF scale for child development research in a large national longitudinal survey: the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 cohort. Parenting, 4(2–3), 259–270.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Nepomnyaschy, L., & Teitler, J. (2013). Cyclical cohabitation among unmarried parents in fragile families. Journal of Marriage and Family, 75(5), 1248–1265.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Orth, U. (2018). The family environment in early childhood has a long-term effect on self-esteem: a longitudinal study from birth to age 27 years. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 114(4), 637.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Perry, N. B., Nelson, J. A., Swingler, M. M., Leerkes, E. M., Calkins, S. D., Marcovitch, S., & O’brien, M. (2013). The relation between maternal emotional support and child physiological regulation across the preschool years. Developmental Psychobiology, 55(4), 382–394.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Price-Robertson, R. (2010). Supporting young parents. Australian Institute of Family Studies.

  49. Putnam-Hornstein, E., Cederbaum, J. A., King, B., Eastman, A. L., & Trickett, P. K. (2015). A population-level and longitudinal study of adolescent mothers and intergenerational maltreatment. American Journal of Epidemiology, 181(7), 496–503.

  50. Roye, C. F., & Balk, S. J. (1996). The relationship of partner support to outcomes for teenage mothers and their children: a review. The Journal of Adolescent Health, 19(2), 86–93.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Sedgh, G., Finer, L. B., Bankole, A., Eilers, M. A., & Singh, S. (2015). Adolescent pregnancy, birth, and abortion rates across countries: levels and recent trends. Journal of Adolescent Health, 56(2), 223–230.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Simons, L. G., Wickrama, K. A. S., Lee, T. K., Landers-Potts, M., Cutrona, C., & Conger, R. D. (2016). Testing family stress and family investment explanations for conduct problems among African American adolescents. Journal of Marriage and Family, 78(2), 498–515.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Smith, M. (2011). Measures for assessing parenting in research and practice. Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 16(3), 158–166.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Thomson, E., & McLanahan, S. S. (2012). Reflections on “Family structure and child well-being: economic resources vs. parental socialization”. Social Forces, 91(1), 45–53.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. U.S. Department of Education. (2016). Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics.

  56. Williams, K., Sassler, S., Addo, F., & Frech, A. (2015). First-birth timing, marital history, and women’s health at midlife. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 56(4), 514–533.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information




C.J.F.: designed and executed the study, performed the data analyses, and wrote the paper. K.L.H.: collaborated in the design of the study, assisted with the data analyses, and collaborated in the writing of the manuscript. K.M.R. and P.J.Y. helped with the design of the study and collaborated in the writing of the manuscript. All authors reviewed and edited the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Celia J. Fulco.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval and Informed Consent

The Research Integrity and Compliance Review Office at the authors’ home institution considered this study exempt from IRB review because the variables from the NLSY data set used in this study were prepared with the intent of being available for public use, and therefore the data are not individually identifiable. Further, the National Longitudinal Survey (NLS) program ensures respondent confidentiality and obtains informed consent via established set procedures. These procedures are in compliance with Federal law and the policies and guidelines of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Identifying details of the participants are not published or suggested in the present study.

Additional information

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Fulco, C.J., Henry, K.L., Rickard, K.M. et al. Time-Varying Outcomes Associated With Maternal Age at First Birth. J Child Fam Stud 29, 1537–1547 (2020).

Download citation


  • Maternal
  • Parenting
  • Age
  • Income
  • Education