Effects Of A Young Motherhood Sociology Essay

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(McLannahan & Booth, 1989) proposed that family structure is fundamental for the transmission of child-bearing behaviour and marriage cited in (Trent, 1994, p321).The prevailing assumption is that there is a greater risk for children from 'nonintact' households developing 'non-normative' attitudes in regards to marriage and childbearing. (Trent, 1994, p321.) Furthermore, there is an expectation that young woman born into 'non- traditional' families to be less likely than other adolescents that grow up in 'traditional' households to hold 'normative' expectations for their life course. (Trent, 1994, p321). Thus, this implies that children brought up in non-intact households are at a grater risk for early childbearing.

Characteristics of young motherhood:

On one hand it has been argued that parental economic resources reduce the potential risk of premarital births as they allow women to pursue roles that conflict with early sexual activity and early childbearing. (Duncan & Hoffman, 1980, Miller & Moore, 1990, Plotnick, 1992) cited in (South, 1999, p753). Conversely, growing up in a single-parent family significantly raises the possibility of an early premarital birth partly because of the lower and unstable income of households headed by single parents. (Wu and Martinson, 1993) cited in (South, 1999, p753). There is also much documented evidence to suggest that young women's demographic and economic characteristics can indeed have the potential to cause the risk of a pre-marital birth. Studies have identified that pre-marital fertility rates increase from the teenage years to the 20's and declines thereafter. (South, 1999, p753). Wilson (1987) argues that the presence of disadvantaged neighbours encourages and supports the idea of pre-marital childbearing and other non-normative or destructive behaviors, reasons for this are; high poverty and underclass neighbourhoods lack "mainstream' role models that help keep alive the perception that education is meaningful, that employment is a viable alternative to welfare, and that family stability is the norm, not the exception" (Wilson, 1987, p56).

Risk of non-marital childbearing:

Academic researchers have documented important information through identifying differences in the risk of nonmarital childbearing in addition to educational attainment. It has been suggested that once women leave school the risk for childbearing increases substantially. Thus, enrolment and attendance in school significantly reduces women's risk of early childbearing. (Upchurch et al, 2002, p313.) In addition to education attainment and enrolment in school there may be other reasons that increase the likelihood of nonmarital childbearing such as, some young women may have low aspirations and expectations in relation to their educational prospects and as a result they have a desire to starting a family. (Geronimus & Korenman, 1992, Hotz, Mullin, and Sanders 1997) cited in (Upchurch et al, 2002, p313.) Moreover, young mothers consistent reliance on the state for social welfare assistance rather than on men (father of the child) and their unwillingness to form a 'traditional nuclear family' has been documented as being "the cause of social decay and constitutive of a new underclass with its attendant problems such as poverty, crime and delinquency" (McDermott & Graham, 2005, p61). Political concerns centering around early childbearing and young motherhood can, therefore be an attempt by policy makers to reinforce the 'traditional family'; a "return to family values" (Cherrington & Breheny, 2005, p. 103).

Single-Parent Families:

Families headed by young single women have become an increasingly prevalent family. Much of the literature concerning lone-parent families has focused on the challenges faced by such families and the extent to which such families might be inadequate child rearing environments. (Richards & Schmiege, 1993, p277). Moreover, much of academic literature has focused on the negative consequences for children raised in families headed by lone parents. (Glenn and Krammer, 1985; Krein, 1986; Mueller & Cooper, 1986; Wallerstein and Blakeslee, 1989) "According to a growing-body of social-science evidence, children in families disrupted by divorce, and out-of-wedlock birth do worse than children in intact families on several measures of well-being".(Whitehead, 1993, p47). Thus, the research emphasis on negative consequences for children reflects societal ambiguity towards lone-parent families. Whereas the cultural ideal is the two- parent family ('traditional nuclear family'). (Richards & Schmiege, 1993, p277).

Marginalization of single-parent families:

For the most part academic research and policy makers compare lone-parent families to the 'traditional family', thereby ignoring the tremendous variability found in this increasingly popular family form. This lack of consideration to family diversity within families headed by lone parents contributes to negative judgments and hinders the targeting of services to young women and their children who most need assistance. (Richards & Schmiege, 1993, p277). Although there have always been one-parent families, primarily due to widowhood, their existence did not challenge the norm of the 'traditional nuclear family'(Thumerelle and Momont, 1989) cited in (Winchester, 1993, p73). The marginalization of lone female parents exemplifies the analysis of individualizing poverty, related to women's dual role in contemporary society, a significant polarization is occurring between groups of women, on the one hand is the group described by (Holcomb 1986) as the 'new urban women' with the dual role of being a; skilled professional, independent women who develop successful careers and who are financially secure. On the other extreme are significantly increasing numbers of young women below the poverty line, mainly households with no resident adult male cited in (Winchester, 1993, p73).


Apprehensions about the place of marriage and childbearing in women's lives in a changing Ireland, of course, are not new. (Oaks, 2003, p 1977). Speaking in Ireland two decades ago, in 1979, Pope John Paul II's widely cited sermon warned against contraception, divorce, and abortion and pleaded, ''may Ireland never weaken in her witness, before Europe and before the whole world, to the dignity and sacredness of all human life, from conception until death'' (quoted in McGarry, 1999). This message served to strengthen Ireland's abortion ban. But the Pope's remarks went further to address Irish women's proper dual roles. His comments gave emphasis to the assertion of motherhood as primary in women's lives: (Oaks, 2003, p 1977) ''may Irish mothers, young women and girls not listen to those who tell them that working at a secular job, succeeding in a secular profession, is more important than the vocation of giving life and caring for this life as a mother'' (quoted in McGarry, 1999) cited in (Oaks, 2003, p 1977). It is evident that in this modern era, many more women are opting to have fewer children in addition; more unmarried women are having children than in generations past. The risk that a message that tells young women to only have children within marriage may encourage single, young pregnant women to opt for abortion. (Laury, Oaks, 2003, p 1978). In Ireland it is evident that abortion has become the most visible denial of reproductive freedom within the "Traditional Family". (Murphy-Lawless, 1993, p59). Furthermore, all women have to negotiate access to contraception through their medical profession. The lack of comprehensive sexual education strategies in schools, communities and the complexity of purchasing contraception and negotiating its use predominantly affect young women. Unexpected pregnancy as a result of non-use of contraception is the main cause for young Irish women seeking abortions in Britain. (Murphy-Lawless, 1993, p59).

Societal Judgment and Moral Condemnation:

While the negative consequences of early childbearing and young motherhood among adolescents have been well documented, societal perceptions and image of young parenting has become too stereotyped and has been unsuccessful in identifying the diversity of experiences faced by young mothers. (Chase-Landsdale, Brooks-Gunn, & Paikoff, 1992) cited in (Camaeena, 1998, p 129). Geronimus (1997, p. 405) argues that "teenage childbearing operates as a uniquely effective symbol of the failure to act responsibly". (Frith, 1993) who collected accounts from single young mothers on their parenting experiences identified that young mothers were in fact aware that they were stigmatized against society, in contrast to their own perceptions of themselves as being mature and capable mothers. (Kirkman et al, 2001, p 280). McMahon (1995) notes that, in times past, young motherhood was for the most part considered not only appropriate, but desirable. Currently, young motherhood and early childbearing outside the 'traditional family' is more often considered problematic and undesirable. (Whitley & Kirmayer, 2008, p340). Young mothers meet many challenges; successfully parenting their children, fulfilling their own developmental tasks, and engaging with other people in their environment who often disapprove and condemn their "teen mom" status and who may judge them harshly. (Kathryn Bondy Fessler, 2005, p104). Young motherhood is repeatedly viewed as encouraging additional economic marginalization and an "entrenchment of a culture of welfare dependency and, inadequate family socialization within entire communities". (Furstenburg et al, 1993) cited in (Bonell, 2004, p256). Pregnant adolescents and young single mothers have been scorned as sluts or wenches (Shakespeare, n.d). Much literature have depicted early childbearing as the beginning of a downward spiral that comprises of; dropping out of school, depending on social welfare or minimum wage jobs, and remaining poor/single mothers. Conventional wisdom also implies that their children will repeat the cycle by failing in school and becoming young parents themselves. (SmithBattle, 2007, p409).

Young mother's view on societal judgment and moral condemnation:

Research suggests that young women having intercourse, using contraception, or risking pregnancy are not, and do not feel themselves, vulnerable to disapproval from their entire social circle. These young women recognize that their situation will be judged differently by different groups and individuals within their social network. It has also been noted that young mothers generally make the distinction between the likely views of their own generation and those of adults. (Briedis, 1975, p 482). "Girls fear condemnation or criticism most from their parents, for in their moral worlds parents are the most powerful agents of conventional morality" (Briedis, 1975, p482)

Young Mothers: Education and Welfare:


The nature of unmarried young mothers educational; and vocational aspirations provides an important source of insight into the causes and consequences of contemporary premarital childbearing. (Farber, 1989, p518). One stereotype is the belief that early motherhood dooms young women to a life of unfulfilled dreams and aspirations. (Camerena, 1998, p129). The consistent link between early childbearing and relatively low levels of educational and employment attainment certainly does lend some support to this idea. (Barbour, Richardson, & Bubenzer, 1993; Hayes, 1987) cited in (Camerena, 1998, p129). What is apparent however is that life aspirations are an important component of young mother's adjustment. (Camerena, 1998, p129). Blinn (1990) research suggests that aspirations for family, education, employment, become highly salient to young mothers as they are 'forced' to adjust their visions for the future. (Camerena, 1998, p129). Both the long a short term choices that young mother's face now take on a new sense of importance as priorities change to account for the future of the new child. (White & Cummings, 1995) cited in (Camerena, 1998, p129). Research has highlighted the relationship between early childbearing and social exclusion; it has been argued that one way in which this can be tackled is to get young mothers back into education. Young women who become parents should not lose out on opportunities for the future. Thus, young mothers should be supported and given the opportunity to complete their education in the hope that having better prospects will give them the means for supporting themselves and their children. (Baker et al, 2007, p220)

Welfare Dependency:

Commonly cited reasons as to why young mother's do not participate in the paid employment include, for example: because their children are too young; there are no appropriate child care places or suitable jobs available; they are on welfare and it does not make financial sense to work; they are lone mothers with little or no support structures available; they have a preference not to work; or combinations of these sorts of reasons (Baxter 2005a; Hakim 2000; Hand & Hughes 2004) cited in (Morehead & Soriano, 2005, p64) . In addition, young mothers on welfare role are stigmatized and are for the most part viewed as being unmotivated and lazy, and looking for a free ride at the expense of taxpayers (Goffman, 1963, Jarett, 1996, Seccombe, James, & Battle Walters, 1998) cited in (Seccombe, 1999, p197). Studies relating to the consequences of young motherhood show that there is good reason to think that young mothers will be long term welfare recipients. Thus, evidence suggests that young mothers "face higher probabilities of welfare receipt and economic deprivation because of the diverse adverse consequences often connected with early childbearing and young motherhood". (Mullan Harris & Furstenberg, 1997, p20). Various literature suggests that there is a growing concern not only for premarital childbearing among young women, but also about welfare becoming a 'lifestyle' in which women will have multiple births both to increase their incomes and to prolong their stays on the welfare system. (Acs, 1996, p899). A young woman may perceive the cost of having a child to be relatively low if she considers her economic prospects to be weak. (Acs, 1996, p899). A woman's awareness of the opportunity cost of having a child is formed by her family background and the strength of the local economy. The financial support obtainable through welfare assistance partially offsets these costs. (Acs, 1996, p899)

Risk Factors Associated With Young Motherhood:

Absent father:

The prevailing assumption of academic researchers and policy makers has been that if a father is absent from the home, he is also absent from the child's life; however, this view is changing. Although a father's involvement with his child tends to decline over time if he is not married to the mother of the child, research has found that many fathers remain involved in their children's lives. (Furstenberg & Harris, 1993) cited in (Howard, 2006, p 468). It has been suggested that the father's involvement not only has a direct effect on the child's socioemotional and cognitive well-being but also serves to moderate the influence the mother has on the child. (Flouri & Buchanan, 2004) cited in (Howard, 2006, p 469). This influence is conceivably even stronger for lone mothers who are often the only parent readily available to the child. (Kimberly, S. Howard, 2006, p 469). While much has been written on the subject of young motherhood, most of the literature has focused on young mothers and their children, with references to the role of fathers being noticeably absent. Coleman (1998) has been critical of the lack of attention academic literature have paid to the role of fathers, arguing that this omission contributes 'to the overall impression that young fathers are either invisible or absent' (p. 311) cited in (Bunting & McAuley, 2004, p295, 296). In relation to the factors that impact on the level of paternal contact, insights into the paternal role, the ability to provide financial support and the nature of the father's relationship with the young mother and child emerges as key concerns to be explored? (Bunting & McAuley, 2004, p298)

Children of young mothers at risk and have poor outcomes:

Research suggests the risk for school-related and problematic behaviour is greater for children born to young mothers compared with children born to older mothers. (Brooks-Gunn & Furstenberg, 1986; Panzarine, 1988; Parks & Arndt, 1990; Thompson, Cappleman, Conrad, & Jordan, 1982; Wadsworth, Taylor, Osborn, & Butler, 1984) cited in (Deutscher et al, 2006, p194). Demographic factors such as deprivation, unsafe neighbourhoods, family environment, and living arrangements, in addition to lone parenthood, contribute to the difficulties many of these children face. (Brooks-Gunn & Duncan, 1997) cited in (Deutscher et al, 2006, p194). Mothers in these circumstances may have little knowledge of the child's developmental milestones, (Osofsky, Hann, & Peebles, 1993; Roosa, 1983; Stevens, 1984), cited in (Deutscher et al, 2006, p194) be less competent language users, and are unlikely to engage in facilitative play. (Culp, Appelbaum, Osofsky, & Levy, 1988; Culp, Culp, Osofsky, & Osofsky, 1991; Keown, Woodward, & Field, 2001) cited in (Deutscher et al, 2006, p194). In addition, when comparing young mothers with older mothers, they have shown to be less responsive with interactive styles (McAnarney, Lawrence, Ricciuti, Polley, & Szilagyi, 1986) cited in (Deutscher et al, 2006, p194) taking into account the young mothers adolescent characteristics, they are likely to engage in parenting styles that are more restrictive, punitive and controlling (Coll, Vohr, Hoffman, & Oh, 1986) cited in (Deutscher et al, 2006, p194). "These negative maternal interaction styles, in addition to sociodemographic variables, contribute to their children being at greater risk for failing to develop the competence needed to enter school". (Bradley & Corwyn, 2002; Causby, Nixon, & Bright, 1991; Raviv, Kessenich, & Morrison, 2004) cited in (Deutscher et al, 2006, p194). Thus, Interventions that prevent insecure attachment, behavioural concerns and developmental delays for children of young adolescent mothers are fundamental. (Deutscher et al, 2006, p194). It is worth noting here the practical implications of inaccurate developmental expectations for young mothers in regards to their children; young mothers have been distinguished as being less responsive, (Garcia Coll, Hoffman, Van Houten, & Oh, 1987) less verbal, (Culp, Appelbaum, Osofsky, & Levy, 1988; Field et al., 1980; Garcia Coll et al., 1987) insensitive to their infants' interactions (Barratt & Roach, 1995) and more forceful and punitive toward their children (Brooks-Gunn&Furstenberg, 1986; Field et al., 1980) in comparison to parenting styles among older mothers. Children raised by young mothers have also been shown to suffer from higher rates of child abuse than those of older mothers (Azar et al., 1984; Goerge & Lee, 1997). Although there are many contributing factors such as parenting stress, lack of social support, and psychological and financial distress that contribute to these parenting differences (Garcia Coll et al., 1987; Ketterlinus, Lamb, & Nitz, 1991) the inaccurate knowledge young mothers have about their children's development may also play a role cited in (Tamis-Lemonda, 2002, p90-91)

Child abuse and neglect

Thorough research and considerable attention has focused on the question of whether children of young mothers, are vulnerable to being abused or neglected? (Stier et al, 1993, p642). Although there is a strong theoretical foundation underpinning the belief that young mothers have more difficulty being adequate and capable parents, as well as some empirical evidence to which suggests that such young mothers have more deficits in parenting skills and interaction with their young infants, the data about young motherhood and child maltreating are conflicting. No study found that young maternal age was linked with a decreased risk of child maltreatment. (Stier et al, 1993, p642)

Support Services for Young Mothers:

De Jonge 2001 research suggests that many young mothers who come from disadvantaged social environments hesitate to undertake activities that set them apart from their peers and family members for example; pursuing a career among this sub-group of women is said to be uncommon. (De Jonge A. 2001, p55). Therefore, to overcome these hesitations thorough attention should be paid on issues of recruitment, accessibility and the design of interventions for these young mothers. A support group that targets lone parents, that empowers women, combined with a drop-in centre could provide this service as well as give emotional support. Alternatively key community midwives and Health Visitors could play an important role in referring young mothers to appropriate services and give these mothers appropriate information on services available to them. (De Jonge A. 2001, p55). The demands of adolescence, coupled with early parenthood, can constitute a stressful period. Researchers (Bunting & McAuley, 2004; Goldstein, Diener, & Mangelsdorf, 1996) view social support as "multidimensional with the support network composed of people who engage in many behaviors pertaining to support recipients" cited in (Crase, 2007, p 505, 506). Collectively, these social ties serve as interpersonal resources for emotional support, services, information, and entry to other community and statutory resources. (Berrington, Diamond, Ingham, & Stevenson, 2005; Bronfenbrenner, Moen, & Garbarino, 1984) cited in (Crase, 2007, p 505, 506)