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September 19, 2007
Early Childbirth Linked to Poor Health in Middle Age
Women who have their first child before age 20 are at a higher risk
of chronic diseases and death when they reach middle age, a new study
The study appears in the September issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior
and reveals that women who are single at the time they have their first
baby could also be at risk of earlier death — an outcome that probably
relates to socioeconomic status later in life after having a child as a
young, single woman.
“Being unmarried at the time of first birth is associated with lower
midlife income and a lower probability of being married in midlife,”
said study author and sociologist John Henretta at the University of
Florida. “It’s not so much the characteristic of being unmarried at
first birth that’s important; it’s what being unmarried at first birth
tells us about the midlife status of these women.”
Henretta evaluated data from the National Institute of Aging’s Health
and Retirement Study, focusing on 4,335 women born in the United States
between 1931 and 1941. These women were first interviewed in 1992 (at
ages 51 to 61) and then followed until 2002. Interviewers asked about
their health, level of education, marital status, wealth, how many
children they had and the age of each living child.
Study data showed that women who give birth before age 20 have a risk
of dying 1.42 times higher than that of women who first give birth
after age 20. Women who had a child before age 20 also had higher rates
of heart disease, lung disease and cancer.
Henretta said that having a baby while unmarried could lead to a lower
chance of eventually marrying and lower economic status in midlife,
which research shows is associated with less access to healthcare.
“The conditions under which a woman has a child at a young age would be
important to consider,” said Ken R. Smith, a professor of human
development and family studies at the University of Utah. “For example,
were her parents or siblings there to assist in rearing the child, did
the child survive, did the mother go on to marry the father and was
that first child followed quickly by another birth? (where should the
close quotes be?)
“But overall, this [study] is a plausible finding and worth
replicating,” Smith added. “A parallel study of men would be useful to
determine if the effects exist for the fathers as well.”
The Journal of Health and Social Behavior is the quarterly journal of the American Sociological Association.
About the American Sociological Association
The American Sociological Association (www.asanet.org),
founded in 1905, is a non-profit membership association dedicated to
serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science
and profession, and promoting the contributions to and use of sociology by society.