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 Why it is Better to Delay Childbearing

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PostSubject: Why it is Better to Delay Childbearing   Sun Mar 09, 2008 2:55 pm

Why it is Better to Delay Childbearing

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Virtually all of the growth of single-parent families in recent decades has been driven by an increase in births outside marriage. Divorce rates have leveled off or declined modestly since the early 1980s and thus have not contributed to the rising proportion of children being raised by only one parent nor to the increase in child poverty and welfare dependence associated with the rise in single-parent families.

[T]there are at least four reasons to focus on teens:

First, half of first non-marital births are to teens. Thus, the pattern tends to start in the teenage years, and, once teens have had a first child outside marriage, many go on to have additional children out of wedlock at an older age

Second, teen childbearing is very costly: teen childbearing costs taxpayers more than $7 billion a year or $3,200 a year for each teenage birth, conservatively estimated.

Third, although almost all single mothers face major challenges in raising their children alone, teen mothers are especially disadvantaged. They are more likely to have dropped out of school and are less likely to be able to support themselves. Only one out of every five teen mothers receives any support from their child's father, and about 80 percent end up on welfare. Once on welfare, they are likely to remain there for a long time. In fact, half of all current welfare recipients had their first child as a teenager.

Other research documents that teen mothers are less likely to finish high school, less likely to ever marry, and more likely to have additional children outside marriage. Thus, an early birth is not just a marker of preexisting problems but a barrier to subsequent upward mobility. As Daniel Lichter of Ohio State University has shown, even those unwed mothers who eventually marry end up with less successful partners than those who delay childbearing. As a result, even if married, these women face much higher rates of poverty and dependence on government assistance than those who avoid an early birth. And early marriages are much more likely to end in divorce. So marriage, while helpful, is no panacea.

Fourth, the children of teen mothers face far greater problems than those born to older mothers. If the reason we care about stemming the growth of single-parent families is the consequences for children, and if the age of the mother is as important as her marital status, then focusing solely on marital status would be unwise. Not only are mothers who defer childbearing more likely to marry, but with or without marriage, their children will be better off. The children of teen mothers are more likely than the children of older mothers to be born prematurely at low birth weight and to suffer a variety of health problems as a consequence. They are more likely to do poorly in school, to suffer higher rates of abuse and neglect, and to end up in foster care with all its attendant costs.
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