, Volume 51, Issue 5, pp 1821–1841 | Cite as

Childbearing Postponement and Child Well-being: A Complex and Varied Relationship?

  • Alice GoisisEmail author
  • Wendy Sigle-Rushton


Over the past several decades, U.S. fertility has followed a trend toward the postponement of motherhood. The socioeconomic causes and consequences of this trend have been the focus of attention in the demographic literature. Given the socioeconomic advantages of those who postpone having children, some authors have argued that the disadvantage experienced by certain groups would be reduced if they postponed their births. The weathering hypothesis literature, by integrating a biosocial perspective, complicates this argument and posits that the costs and benefits of postponement may vary systematically across population subgroups. In particular, the literature on the weathering hypothesis argues that, as a consequence of their unique experiences of racism and disadvantage, African American women may experience a more rapid deterioration of their health which could offset or eventually reverse any socioeconomic benefit of postponement. But because very few African American women postpone motherhood, efforts to find compelling evidence to support the arguments of this perspective rely on a strategy of comparison that is problematic because a potentially selected group of older black mothers are used to represent the costs of postponement. This might explain why the weathering hypothesis has played a rather limited role in the way demographers conceptualize postponement and its consequences for well-being. In order to explore the potential utility of this perspective, we turn our attention to the UK context. Because first-birth fertility schedules are similar for black and white women, we can observe (rather than assume) whether the meaning and consequences of postponement vary across these population subgroups. The results, obtained using linked UK census and birth record data, reveal evidence consistent with the weathering hypothesis in the United Kingdom and lend support to the arguments that the demographic literature would benefit from integrating insights from this biosocial perspective.


Childbearing postponement Maternal age Weathering hypothesis Low birth weight Ethnicity 



The permission of the Office for National Statistics to use the Longitudinal Study is gratefully acknowledged (ONS clearance number 30143), as is the help provided by staff of the Centre for Longitudinal Study Information and User Support (CeLSIUS). CeLSIUS is supported by the ESRC Census of Population Programme (Award Ref: RES-348-25-0004). The authors alone are responsible for the interpretation of the data. Census output is Crown copyright and is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen’s Printer for Scotland. Goisis gratefully acknowledges the support of the ESRC ES/H013253/1 and the LSE Titmuss Meinhardt funding. Sigle-Rushton gratefully acknowledges the support of ESRC RES-177-25-0016 Children’s Health Disparities in the U.S. and the UK: The Role of the Family. We thank Alicia Adsera, Kathleen Kiernan, Sarah McLanahan, Mike Murphy, Lucinda Platt, Rebecca Sear, and Marta Tienda for useful comments and suggestions.

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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Social PolicyLondon School of EconomicsLondonUK
  2. 2.International Centre for Life Course Studies in Society and Health (ICLS), Research Department of Epidemiology and Public HealthUCLLondonUK
  3. 3.The Gender Institute, The London School of Economics and Political ScienceLondonUK

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