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Teenage Childbearing and Its Life Cycle Consequences: Exploiting a Natural Experiment

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  • V. Joseph Hotz
  • Seth G. Sanders
  • Susan Williams McElroy

Abstract

In this paper, we exploit a 'natural experiment' associated with human reproduction to identify the effect of teen childbearing on subsequent educational attainment, family structure, labor market outcomes and financial self-sufficiency. In particular, we exploit the fact that a substantial fraction of women who become pregnant experience a miscarriage (spontaneous abortion) and thus do not have a birth. If miscarriages were purely random and if miscarriages were the only way, other than by live births, that a pregnancy ended, then women, who had a miscarriage as a teen, would constitute an ideal control group with which to contrast teenage mothers. Exploiting this natural experiment, we devise an Instrumental Variables (IV) estimators for the consequences of teen mothers not delaying their childbearing, using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1979 (NLSY79). Our major finding is that many of the negative consequences of not delaying childbearing until adulthood are much smaller than has been estimated in previous studies. While we do find adverse consequences of teenage childbearing immediately following a teen mother's first birth, these negative consequences appear short- lived. By the time a teen mother reachers her late twenties, she appears to have only slightly more children, is only slightly more likely to be single mother, and has no lower levels of educational attainment than if she had delayed her childbearing to adulthood. In fact, by this age teen mothers appear to be better off in some aspects of their lives. Teenage childbearing appears to raise levels of labor supply, accumulated work experience and labor market earnings and appears to reduce the chances of living in poverty and participating in the associated social welfare programs. These estimated effects imply that the cost of teenage childbearing to U.S. taxpayers is negligible. In particular, our estimates imply that the widely held view that teenage childbearing imposes a substantial cost on government is an artifact of the failure to appropriately account for pre- existing socioeconomic differences between teen mothers and other women when estimating the causal effects of early childbearing. While teen mothers are very likely to live in poverty and experience other forms of adversity, our results imply that little of this would be changed just by getting teen mothers to delay their childbearing into adulthood.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 7397.

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Date of creation: Oct 1999
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Publication status: published as McElroy, S. and S. Sanders. “Teenage Childbearing and Its Life Cycle Consequences: Exploiting a Very Natural Experiment." Journal of Human Resources 40, 3 (Summer 2005): 683-715.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7397

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  1. Joshua D. Angrist & Guido W. Imbens, 1991. "Sources of Identifying Information in Evaluation Models," NBER Technical Working Papers 0117, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Ribar, D.C., 1992. "Teenage Fertility and Early Adult Labor Force Participation," Papers 4-92-1, Pennsylvania State - Department of Economics.
  3. Rosenzweig, Mark R & Wolpin, Kenneth I, 1995. "Sisters, Siblings, and Mothers: The Effect of Teen-Age Childbearing on Birth Outcomes in a Dynamic Family Context," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 63(2), pages 303-26, March.
  4. Josefine Card, 1981. "Long-term consequences for children of teenage parents," Demography, Springer, vol. 18(2), pages 137-156, May.
  5. Geronimus, Arline T & Korenman, Sanders, 1992. "The Socioeconomic Consequences of Teen Childbearing Reconsidered," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 107(4), pages 1187-214, November.
  6. Cameron, Stephen V & Heckman, James J, 1993. "The Nonequivalence of High School Equivalents," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 11(1), pages 1-47, January.
  7. Bronars, Stephen G & Grogger, Jeff, 1994. "The Economic Consequences of Unwed Motherhood: Using Twin Births as a Natural Experiment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(5), pages 1141-56, December.
  8. Juhn, Chinhui & Murphy, Kevin M & Pierce, Brooks, 1993. "Wage Inequality and the Rise in Returns to Skill," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 101(3), pages 410-42, June.
  9. James J. Heckman, 1991. "Randomization and Social Policy Evaluation," NBER Technical Working Papers 0107, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Hotz, V Joseph & Mullin, Charles H & Sanders, Seth G, 1997. "Bounding Causal Effects Using Data from a Contaminated Natural Experiment: Analysing the Effects of Teenage Childbearing," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 64(4), pages 575-603, October.
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