Childbearing postponement and child wellbeing in the U.K: reconciling and integrating different perspectives
Goisis, A. (2013) Doctoral Thesis. The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) [ONS LS]
The demographic literature has tended to interpret the postponement of childbearing, experienced in developed countries over the past three decades, as beneficial for families. As women who postpone their first birth accumulate resources before they become mothers, an increasing maternal age at first birth is expected to be positively associated with children’s wellbeing. Existing evidence is only partially able to support these arguments, primarily for two reasons. Firstly, the demographic literature has been mainly preoccupied with the social aspects of postponement, ignoring that, as showed by the medical literature, older childbearing may involve health complications and result in worse outcomes for children. Indeed, the link between postponement and child wellbeing may depend on how late the birth occurs. Secondly, the “weathering” hypothesis literature argues that the link between maternal age and child wellbeing is heterogeneous for population subgroups. Ethnic minority women may have fewer opportunities to acquire resources even if they postpone childbearing. Because of the disadvantage and racism they endure, they may experience a more rapid deterioration of their health, which implies that their children’s wellbeing might worsen, rather than improve, with increasing maternal age at birth. The original contribution to knowledge of this thesis is that of investigating the way childbearing postponement is associated with family and child wellbeing by integrating and reconciling different perspectives on maternal age, which have so far been developed and applied relatively independently. The research focuses on the U.K. context, on first births and compares (children born to) Black and White mothers. The results, on average, support the arguments of the demographic literature as first born children of older mothers (30+) fare significantly better than children of younger mothers, although, consistent with the medical literature, the benefits cease to accumulate at particularly advanced maternal ages. However, consistent with the “weathering” hypothesis literature, the results suggest that when analysed separately for Black and White mothers, the association between maternal age and child wellbeing varies across these groups. Indeed, Black/White gaps in child low birth weight widen with increasing maternal age at first birth. The results also reveal that when Black mothers delay childbearing to older ages, they do not experience the same accumulation of resources as White mothers do, suggesting that childbearing postponement may reflect qualitatively different processes for these groups.
Available online: Doctoral Thesis.
Output from project: 0301382