, Volume 53, Issue 1, pp 85–116 | Cite as

The Effect(s) of Teen Pregnancy: Reconciling Theory, Methods, and Findings

  • Christina J. DiazEmail author
  • Jeremy E. Fiel


Although teenage mothers have lower educational attainment and earnings than women who delay fertility, causal interpretations of this relationship remain controversial. Scholars argue that there are reasons to predict negative, trivial, or even positive effects, and different methodological approaches provide some support for each perspective. We reconcile this ongoing debate by drawing on two heuristics: (1) each methodological strategy emphasizes different women in estimation procedures, and (2) the effects of teenage fertility likely vary in the population. Analyses of the Child and Young Adult Cohorts of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (N = 3,661) confirm that teen pregnancy has negative effects on most women’s attainment and earnings. More striking, however, is that effects on college completion and early earnings vary considerably and are most pronounced among those least likely to experience an early pregnancy. Further analyses suggest that teen pregnancy is particularly harmful for those with the brightest socioeconomic prospects and who are least prepared for the transition to motherhood.


Teenage childbearing Teenage pregnancy Effect heterogeneity Socioeconomic attainment 



The authors would like to acknowledge the Ford Foundation (Diaz, Pre-doctoral Fellowship #CHK-7020411); the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education (Fiel, Award #R305B090009); and the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (Fiel, Award #DGE-0718123). This research was partially supported by the Center of Demography and Ecology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. We thank participants of the Inequality & Methods Workshop at the Minnesota Population Center for providing valuable feedback, as well as Jenna Nobles for comments on earlier drafts. The authors are solely responsible for all content.

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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of SociologyUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA

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