Children of teen mothers tend to have lower levels of academic achievement than their peers, according to a University of Michigan study in the current issue of the Journal of Research on Adolescence.
As early as kindergarten, children who were born to mothers age 19 or older tend to perform better on tests than children born to younger mothers, researchers found. The data came from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort, which followed over 14,000 U.S. students between 1998 and 2007. That research tracked students' math and reading scores in third, fifth, and eighth grades, after initially assessing them in kindergarten. As the students got older, children with older mothers continued to have higher test scores than their peers.
The research also found that if a young mother continued her education after having children, her children went on to perform better on tests than they would if their mother had stopped her education after giving birth. However, within this group, a knowledge gap still existed between children with younger mothers and those with older mothers.
Even if a woman had a child when she was a teenager, then waited until she was older to have more children, those younger siblings would still score lower on tests than their peers whose mothers had never had a child as a teen, the study found.
Children of young mothers may also be less likely to pursue higher levels of education. A 2010 study in the United Kingdom found that a child's odds of staying in school increased for every year a mother continued her own education. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only 40 percent of teen mothers finish high school and just 2 percent complete college by age 30.
This summer, a study from the Foundation for Child Development compared children whose mothers had not graduated high school with children whose mothers had graduated from college. They found that children with mothers who graduated from college generally had higher family income and better reading proficiency. Children whose mothers did not graduate from high school, on the other hand, were more likely themselves not to graduate high school on time.
The findings of this study should not be construed as saying younger mothers produce less intelligent children. There are many factors that affect a child's school performance, and younger mothers are more likely to raise children in poorer economic circumstances than are older mothers, which tends to give the children of older mothers a leg up from birth. Teen mothers often come from impoverished and highly unequal backgrounds, and tend to have less support available from their schools, families and communities on the whole.