Skip to main content


Log in

The effect on teenage childbearing on social capital development: new evidence on civic engagement

  • Published:
Review of Economics of the Household Aims and scope Submit manuscript


Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 (NLSY97), we examine the relationship between teenage childbearing and four measures of adult civic engagement: charitable giving, volunteerism, political awareness, and voting. After accounting for selection on observables via propensity score matching and selection on unobservables via family fixed effects and instrumental variables approaches, we find that teen motherhood is negatively related to adult civic engagement. Descriptive evidence suggests that teen birth-induced reductions in educational attainment and the time-intensive nature of childcare are important mechanisms. Finally, we find that while the adverse civic engagement effects of teen parenthood may extend to teen fathers, the effects are much smaller in magnitude.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. The private socioeconomic and health-related consequences of teenage parenthood have been widely studied by both economists and sociologists (Geronimus and Korenman 1992, 1993; Hoffman et al. 1993; Bennett et al.1995; Levine and Painter 2003; Ribar 1999, 1994; Rindfuss et al. 1980; Klepinger et al. 1995, 1999; Marini 1984; Olsen and Farkas 1989; Hotz et al. 2005; Fletcher and Wolfe 2009; Ashcraft and Lang 2006; Hoffman 1998; Webbink et al. 2008; Fletcher 2011; Covington et al. 2013).

  2. These organizations often serve the poor via food banks, homeless shelters, family or legal services, or financial aid, but also provide services for the larger non-poor community through booster clubs, Parent–Teacher Organizations, and youth sports groups (Giving USA 2012).

  3. Sizable social benefits of charitable giving have been used to justify tax expenditures of approximately 50 billion dollars (Joint Committee on Taxation 2011).

  4. The absence of compulsory voting laws is one explanation for relatively U.S. voter turnout (Pew Research 2016).

  5. However, the adverse wage earnings effects of teenage childbearing may also decrease the opportunity cost of time, which could lead to an increase in time-intensive forms of civic engagement such as volunteerism.

  6. See, for example, Eggebeen and Knoester (2001), Edin et al. (2004), Popenoe (1996) and Fletcher (2011) for a discussion of how teen parenthood could lead to some maturing behaviors.

  7. Redistributive policies may also impact the bargaining power of couples, which could affect political participation (Cohen and Glazer 2015).

  8. On p. 48 of Pacheco and Plutzer (2008), the authors mention, but do not present, auxiliary regressions of the relationship between having a teen miscarriage (vs. not getting pregnant) and voting behavior using the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent and Adult Health. They interpret the absence of a significant relationship as evidence against selection bias.

  9. We also experimented with generating a measure of dollars of charitable contributions in the last year, conditional on Charity equal to 1, but found that much of the effect was on the extensive margin of behavior.

  10. Table 8 shows these mean differences for the sister’s sample, showing a generally similar pattern as in the full sample.

  11. Estimating probit models produces marginal effects that are comparable to those reported in the tables below.

  12. The approach will also not generalize to those siblings who are more dissimilar in age than our sample allows or for those with only opposite-gender siblings.

  13. For example, if non-teen parent siblings assume some of the child care responsibilities for their sisters, then sibling comparisons could bias estimated effects toward zero.

  14. Respondents were asked, In the past 12 months, how often have you attended a worship service (like church or synagogue service or mass)?

  15. Respondents were asked, What percentage of kids [in your grade/in your grade when you were last in school] [go/went] to church or religious services on a regular basis? and What percentage of kids [in your grade /in your grade when you were last in school] [do/did] volunteer work?

  16. There are 165 girls in our sample who report an age of first birth below 16, 59% of those are at age 15, another 29% at age 14, and the other 12% at age 13 or less.

  17. For this sample, the mean proportion of adult women who gave to charity was 0.246; for volunteerism 0.280, for political awareness 0.465, and for voting 0.395.

  18. These F-statistics shown in Table 4 were obtained using the sample for the political awareness regression. When we use the sample for the charitable giving regression, the F-statistics range from 167.0 to 184.0; for the volunteerism regression sample from 166.0 to 184.2; and for the voting regression from 148.3 to 167.1.

  19. We also experimented with state fertility and abortion policies as instruments, but none passed the Staiger and Stock (1997) weak instrument test.

  20. Measurement error in miscarriages may also be a concern.

  21. Respondents are asked the following questionnaire items about smoking, binge drinking, and marijuana use, which we match to the timing of teen pregnancy:

    During the past 30 days, on how many days did you smoke a cigarette?

    During the last 30 days, on how many days did you have one or more drinks of an alcoholic beverage?

    On how many days have you used marijuana in the last 30 days?

    We code alcohol consumption equal to 1 if any drinks were reported and 0 otherwise; cigarette consumption is set equal to 1 if the participant smoked any number of days and 0 otherwise. Marijuana use was set equal to 1 if the responded answered yes to having used any amount of marijuana and 0 otherwise.

  22. We also experimented with controls for prenatal care and the results were qualitatively similar.

  23. We emphasize that this mediating analysis is descriptive in nature, and could have multiple interpretations. For instance, the observable controls may also capture individual heterogeneity related to teen childbearing (or miscarriages in the case of the IV analysis).

  24. Column (1) in Panel I repeats OLS results from column (2) of Table 2; column (1) of Panel II shows the FE results from column (5) of Table 2; and column (1) of Panel III repeats the 2SLS results from column (3) of Table 4.

  25. Only using the OLS approach—which does the least to address selection—do we find some evidence of a mediating effect of educational attainment. We find that controlling for educational attainment reduces the absolute magnitude of the OLS estimated association between teen childbearing and adult civic engagement by up to 73%.

  26. Specifically, these include a set of dichotomous indicators for whether the respondent’s age of youngest child is ages 5 or under, between ages 6 and 10, and over age 10. For the OLS and FE samples, there is also an indicator for whether the respondent did not have a child.

  27. An alternate interpretation of this finding could be that there is stronger negative selection on education for teenage men than for teenage women.

  28. We pooled the samples of males and females and interacted a gender dummy with Teen Birth (conditional on interactions of the gender dummy with each of the controls) to test for gender differences in the civic engagement effects of teen parenthood.


  • Andolina, M. W., Jenkins, K., Zukin, C., & Keeter, S. (2003). Habits from home, lessons from school: Influences on youth civic engagement. Political Science and Politics, 36(02), 275–280.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Arpino, B., & Bordone, V. (2017). Regular provision of grandchild care and participation in social activities. Review of Economics of the Household, 15(1), 135–174.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ashcraft, A., & Lang, K. (2006). The consequences of teenage childbearing. NBER Working Paper No. 12485.

  • Auten, G., Sieg, H., & Clotfelter, C. (2002). Charitable giving, income, and taxes: An analysis of panel data. The American Economic Review, 92(1), 371–382.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bennett, N. G., Bloom, D. E., & Miller, C. K. (1995). The influence of nonmarital childbearing on the formation of first marriages. Demography, 32(1), 47–62.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brooks, A. C. (2003). Religious faith and charitable giving. Policy Review, 121, 39–50.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cherlin, A., & Griffith, J. (1998). Methodological issues in improving data on fathers: Report of the working group on the methodology of studying fathers. Nurturing fatherhood: Improving data and research on male fertility. Washington, D.C.: Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics 75–211.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cohen, L., & Glazer, A. (2015). Bargaining within the family can generate a political gender gap. Review of Economics of the Household, 1–15, Available at:

  • Corporation for National and Community Service (2015). Volunteering and Civic Life in America 2015 National, State, and City Information. Available at:

  • Covington, R., Peters, H. E., Price, J. P., & Sabia, J. J. (2013). Teen Fatherhood and Educational Attainment: Evidence from Three Cohorts of Youth. Working Paper, Urban Institute.

  • Do, C., & Paley, I. (2012). Altruism from the house: The impact of home equity on charitable giving. Review of Economics of the Household, 10(3), 375–393.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Duke, N. N., Skay, C. L., Pettingell, S. L., & Borowsky, I. W. (2009). From adolescent connections to social capital: Predictors of civic engagement in young adulthood. Journal of Adolescent Health, 44(2), 161–168.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Edin, K., Maria, K., & Joanna, R. (2004). A peek inside the black box: What marriage means for poor unmarried parents. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66(4), 1007–1014.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Eggebeen, D., & Knoester, C. (2001). Does fatherhood matter for men? Journal of Marriage and Family, 63(2), 381–393.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Flanagan, C., & Levine, P. (2010). Civic engagement and the transition to adulthood. The Future of Children, 20(1), 159–179.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fletcher, J. (2011). The effects of teenage childbearing on the short and long-term health behaviors of mothers. Journal of Population Economics, 25, 201–218.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fletcher, J., & Wolfe, B. (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, 303–325.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fletcher, J. M., & Wolfe, B. L. (2012). The effects of teenage fatherhood on young adult outcomes. Economic Inquiry, 50(1), 182–201.

  • Geronimus, A. T., & Korenman, S. (1992). The socioeconomic consequences of teen childbearing reconsidered. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 107(4), 1187–1214.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Geronimus, A. T., & Korenman, S. (1993). The socioeconomic consequences of teen childbearing: Evidence and interpretation. Demography, 30, 281–296.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Giving USA 2012: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2011. Giving USA Foundation Headquarters, Chicago, IL.

  • Giving USA 2015: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2014. Available at: Giving USA Foundation Headquarters, Chicago, IL.

  • Heckman, J. J., Ichimura, H., & Todd, P. (1998). Matching as an econometric evaluation estimator. Review of Economic Studies, 65.2, 261–294.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Herbst, C. M., & Ifcher, J. (2016). The increasing happiness of US parents. Review of Economics of the Household, 14(3), 529–551.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hoffman, S. D. (1998). Teenage childbearing is not so bad after all…or is it? A review of the new literature. Family Planning Perspectives, 30(5), 236–239.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hoffman, S. D., Foster, E. M., & Furstenberg., F. F. (1993). Re-evaluating the costs of teenage childbearing. Demography, 30(1), 1–13.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hotz, V., Joseph, S. W., McElroy, & Sanders, S. G. (2005). Teenage childbearing and its life cycle consequences: Exploiting a natural experiment. Journal of Human Resources, 40(3), 683–715.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Isham, J., Kolodinsky, J., & Kimberly, G. (2006). The effects of volunteering for nonprofit organizations on social capital formation: Evidence from a statewide survey. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 35(3), 367–383.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Joint Committee on Taxation. (2011). Background information on tax expenditure analysis and historical survey of tax expenditure estimates. Washington, DC: Joint Committee on Taxation. JCX-15-11.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jones-Correa, M. A., & David, L. L. (2001). Political participation: Does religion matter? Political Research Quarterly, 54(4), 751–770.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Joyner, K., Peters, H. E., Hynes, K., Sikora, A., Taber, J. R., & Rendall, M. S. (2012). The quality of male fertility data in major U.S. surveys. Demography, 49(1), 101–124.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Klepinger, D., Lundberg, S., & Plotnick, R. (1995). Adolescent fertility and the educational attainment of young women. Family Planning Perspectives, 27(1), 23–28.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Klepinger, D., Lundberg, S., & Plotnick, R. (1999). How does adolescent fertility affect the human capital and wages of young women? Journal of Human Resources, 34(3), 421–448.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Levine, D. I., & Painter, G. (2003). The schooling costs of teenage out-of-Wedlock childbearing: Analysis with a within-school propensity score matching estimator. Review of Economics and Statistics, 85(4), 884–900.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • La Due Lake, R., & Huckfeldt, R. (1998). Social capital, social networks, and political participation. Political Psychology, 19(3), 567–584.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Levin-Waldman, Oren (2012). Rising income inequality and declining civic participation. Challenge, 55.3, 51–70.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Marini, M. M. (1984). Women’s educational attainment and the timing of entry into parenthood. American Sociological Review, 49(Aug), 491–511.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McIntosh, H., Hart, D., & Youniss, J. (2007). The influence of family political discussion on youth civic development: Which parent qualities matter? PS: Political Science & Politics, 40(03), 495–499.

    Google Scholar 

  • National Center for Charitable Statistics (2015). Quick Facts about Non-profits. NCCS. Available at:

  • Nie, N. H., Junn, J., & Stehlik-Barry, K. (1996). Education and democratic citizenship in America. Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Olsen, R. J., & Farkas, G. (1989). Endogenous covariates in duration models and the effect of adolescent childbirth on schooling. Journal of Human Resources, 24(1), 39–53.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pacheco, J. S., & Plutzer, E. (2007). Stay in school, don’t become a parent teen life transitions and cumulative disadvantages for voter turnout. American Politics Research, 35(1), 32–56.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pacheco, J. S., & Plutzer, E. (2008). Political participation and cumulative disadvantage: The impact of economic and social hardship on young citizens. Journal of Social Issues, 64(3), 571–593.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pew Research Center (2016). Available at:

  • Popenoe, D. (1996). Life without father: Compelling new evidence that fatherhood and marriage are indispensable for the good of children and society. New York: The Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Putnam, R. D., Leonardi, R., & Nanetti, R. Y. (1994). Making democracy work: Civic traditions in modern Italy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

  • Rendall, M. S., Clarke, L., Peters, H. E., Ranjit, N., & Verropolou, G. (1999). Incomplete reporting of men’s fertility in the United States and Britain: A research note? Demography, 36, 135–144.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ribar, D. C. (1994). Teenage fertility and high school completion. Review of Economics and Statistics, 76(3), 413–424.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ribar, D. C. (1999). The socioeconomic consequences of young women’s childbearing: Reconciling disparate evidence. Journal of Population Economics, 12(4), 547–565.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rindfuss, R., Bumpass, L., & St. John, C. (1980). Education and fertility: Implications for the roles women occupy. American Sociological Review, 45(3), 431–447.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Skocpol, T., & Fiorina, M. P. (Eds) (2004). Civic engagement in American democracy. Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press.

  • Somin, I. (2010). Deliberative democracy and political ignorance. Critical Review, 22(2–3), 253–279.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Staiger, D., & Stock, J. H. (1997). Instrumental variables regression with weak instruments. Econometrica : Journal of the Econometric Society, 65, 557–586.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • United Nations (2012). UNDP Strategy on Civil Society and Civic Engagement, October 2012. Available at:

  • Webbink, D., Martin, N. G., & Visscher., P. M. (2008). Does teenage childbearing increase smoking, drinking and body size? Journal of Health Economics, 27(4), 888–903.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wiepking, P. (2009). Resources that make you generous: Effects of social and human resources on charitable giving. Social Forces, 87(4), 1973–1995.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


The authors thank participants at the 2013 Southern Economic Association and Population Association of America meetings for useful comments and suggestions. We thank Rebecca Sen Choudhury for excellent research assistance. The work was supported, in part, by a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (P01HD045610), the Cornell Institute for the Social Sciences and the Cornell Population Program. Dr. Sabia also acknowledges support from a grant received from the Charles Koch Foundation.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Joseph J. Sabia.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.



Tables 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Table 8 Descriptive Statistics for the sibling sample
Table 9 Control coefficients from Table 2
Table 10 Table 2 propensity score matching balancing tables, comparison of means
Table 11 Balancing tables for live birth vs. miscarriage teen pregnancy
Table 12 Moderating effect of education and income on the relationship between teen parenthood and adult civic engagement

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Sabia, J.J., Price, J.P., Peters, H.E. et al. The effect on teenage childbearing on social capital development: new evidence on civic engagement. Rev Econ Household 16, 629–659 (2018).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: