Childhood poverty, early motherhood and adult social exclusion

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Childhood poverty and early parenthood are both high on the current political agenda. The key new issue that this research addresses is the relative importance of childhood poverty and of early motherhood as correlates of outcomes later in life. How far are the 'effects' of early motherhood on later outcomes due to childhood precursors, especially experience of childhood poverty? Subsidiary questions relate to the magnitude of these associations, the particular levels of childhood poverty that prove most critical, and whether, as often assumed, only teenage mothers are subsequently disadvantaged, or are those who have their first birth in their early twenties similarly disadvantaged? The source of data for this study is the National Child Development Study. We examine outcomes at age 33 for several domains of adult social exclusion: welfare, socio-economic, physical health, emotional well-being and demographic behaviour. We control for a wide range of childhood factors: poverty; social class of origin and of father; mother's and father's school leaving age; family structure; housing tenure; mother's and father's interest in education; personality attributes; performance on educational tests; and contact with the police by age 16. There are clear associations for the adult outcomes with age at first birth, even after controlling for childhood poverty and the other childhood background factors. Moreover, we demonstrate that the widest gulf in adult outcomes occurs for those who enter motherhood early (before age 23), though further reinforced by teenage motherhood for most adult outcomes. We also show that any experience of childhood poverty is clearly associated with adverse outcomes in adulthood, with reinforcement for higher levels of childhood poverty for a few outcomes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)495-517
Number of pages22
JournalBritish Journal of Sociology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2001


  • Childhood
  • Poverty
  • Teenage
  • Motherhood
  • Social
  • Exclusion
  • Longitudinal
  • Analysis

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