Quality of Life Research

, Volume 27, Issue 4, pp 923–935 | Cite as

Mental health-related quality of life and the timing of motherhood: a 16-year longitudinal study of a national cohort of young Australian women

  • Libby Holden
  • Richard Hockey
  • Robert S. Ware
  • Christina Lee



We examine timing of motherhood in a longitudinal cohort of young Australian women, and its relationship with mental health-related quality of life (SF-36 MHI-5), and with sociodemographic, health behaviour and health-related variables.


We analysed longitudinal self-report data from a nationally representative cohort of 10,332 Australian women born 1973–1978, surveyed 6 times between 1996 (aged 18–23) and 2012 (aged 34–39).


Group-based trajectory modelling identified four groups. Normative Mothers (46%, mean age at motherhood 30.5 years) made the transition to motherhood close to the Australian median age. Early Mothers (25%, 25.2 years) and Very Early Mothers (7%, 20.0 years) made this transition earlier; Not Mothers (22%) had not given birth. Generalised linear mixed models showed that all groups improved mean MHI-5 scores over time. Patterns of group differences were complex: Normative and Early Mothers scored consistently highest; Very Early Mothers scored lowest at most surveys; Not Mothers’ scores increased relative to others over time. Most effects disappeared after adjustment for confounders. Early and Very Early Mothers showed multiple indicators of social disadvantage, while Not Mothers had very low rates of marriage.


Timing of motherhood is embedded in sociodemographic and personal contexts. Women with socioeconomic advantages were characterised by higher mental health-related quality of life and later transition to motherhood, but adjustment for relative advantage attenuated differences in mental health-related quality of life. The overall findings suggest a pattern of positive adaptation to circumstances, with mental health-related quality of life improving through early adulthood regardless of timing of motherhood.


Longitudinal Motherhood Mental health Predictors Trajectories 



The Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (ALSWH) is conducted by a team of researchers from the Universities of Queensland and Newcastle, and funded by the Australian Government Department of Health. This analysis was funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery Project Grant to the last author (DP120100167).

Data availability

Information on ALSWH, including surveys, data books and information on data access, can be found at

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Libby Holden, Richard Hockey, Robert Ware and Christina Lee declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This research has been approved by the Human Research Ethics Committees of the University of Queensland and the University of Newcastle, Australia, and has been performed in accordance with the ethical standards laid down in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Supplementary material

11136_2018_1786_MOESM1_ESM.docx (20 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 19 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Public HealthThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  2. 2.School of Public Health, Menzies Health InstituteGriffith UniversityMount GravattAustralia
  3. 3.School of PsychologyThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia

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