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Maternal Age and Child Development

Abstract

Although the consequences of teen births for both mothers and children have been studied for decades, few studies have taken a broader look at the potential payoffs—and drawbacks—of being born to older mothers. A broader examination is important given the growing gap in maternal ages at birth for children born to mothers with low and high socioeconomic status. Drawing data from the Children of the NLSY79, our examination of this topic distinguishes between the value for children of being born to a mother who delayed her first birth and the value of the additional years between her first birth and the birth of the child whose achievements and behaviors at ages 10–13 are under study. We find that each year the mother delays a first birth is associated with a 0.02 to 0.04 standard deviation increase in school achievement and a similar-sized reduction in behavior problems. Coefficients are generally as large for additional years between the first and given birth. Results are fairly robust to the inclusion of cousin and sibling fixed effects, which attempt to address some omitted variable concerns. Our mediational analyses show that the primary pathway by which delaying first births benefits children is by enabling mothers to complete more years of schooling.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. Buckles and Munnich (2012) used data from the CNLSY79 to study the relationship between birth spacing and child development. Our study also uses the CNLSY79 but addresses a different but related research topic. Specifically, we study the relationship between maternal age at birth and children’s human capital differentiating between (1) the value for children of being born to a mother who delayed her first birth (general experience) and (2) the value of the additional years between her first birth and the birth of the child whose outcomes are under study (parenting or child-specific experience). In spite of different sampling restrictions with the same data set, we are able to closely replicate the OLS results from Buckles and Munnich (2012) for child reading outcomes but no math outcomes. These results are available upon request from the authors.

  2. This measure accounts for years of general life experience for all children in the analysis sample. Siblings in the same family have the same value for years between age 16 and first birth.

  3. The distribution is at the child level.

  4. This measure accounts for years of parenting experience for all children in the analysis sample: 43.2 % of the children of sample were firstborn children who experienced 0 years of parenting experience.

  5. The HOME instrument uses a different set of items for children aged 0–2 and those aged 3–5. We checked the robustness of our results to using either HOME scores at ages 1–2 or at ages 3–4. We found that the estimates are very similar to those presented in the article, which use HOME scores at ages 2 or 3.

  6. We also used the dummy variable adjustment approach to handle missing data, and the results were very similar.

  7. We would have preferred to use controls for child’s year of birth in single year dummy variables. However, the single-year dummy variables are highly collinear with our two regressors of interest (number of years between mother’s age 16 and child’s year of birth and numbers of years between first birth and the focal child). For instance, when we use this type of specification, standard errors jump by between 7 and 11 times, and variance-inflation factors are very large. One explanation is that our children are born across many years with relatively few children in each one-year bin, which absorbs a lot of the variation that contributes to identifying our main coefficients of interests.

  8. We also estimated models including interactions between the two types of maternal age experiences. We found that the coefficients on the interaction term between maternal general and parenting experience were not significant and were robust to this alternative specification. Results are available upon request.

  9. One potential concern in the estimations of maternal years of education as an outcome is simultaneity and reverse causality. To address this concern, we performed an instrumental variables analysis to deal with endogeneity issues of the timing of first birth. Specifically, we used state changes in Medicaid abortion funding restrictions during the 1980s and 1990s as an instrument for maternal age of first birth. We defined the instrument as the fraction of years between age 16 and 20 that the mother lived in a state with Medicaid funding restrictions while conditioning on additional state characteristics such as income per capita, unemployment rate, and average AFDC benefit per family. Table S12 in the online appendix shows that these funding restrictions are significantly associated with the timing of the first birth in the first stage, and our OLS estimates in Table 6 lie within the 95 % confidence interval for our two-stage least squares (2SLS) estimates.

  10. This is not surprising because this specification requires within-cousin variation at different bins.

  11. We find only some evidence that (1) for our reading outcome, the association between both life and general experience and adolescent reading performance is lower for more-educated mothers; and (2) for externalizing behavior, the relationship of both life and parenting experience and externalizing problems is more beneficial for Hispanics.

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Acknowledgments

This study was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number P01HD065704. The authors thank Kathleen Ziol-Guest and seminar participants at the 2015 Irvine Network on Interventions in Development conference and the 2015 annual meeting of the Population Association of America for helpful comments and discussions, and Marianne Bitler for sharing data on changes in abortion laws across states between 1979 and 1998.

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Correspondence to Kenneth T. H. Lee.

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Duncan, G.J., Lee, K.T.H., Rosales-Rueda, M. et al. Maternal Age and Child Development. Demography 55, 2229–2255 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-018-0730-3

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-018-0730-3

Keywords

  • Child development
  • Maternal age
  • Fertility
  • Child achievement