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Teen Mothers Have Children With Lower Test Scores

November 19, 2014

Becoming a teen mother entails a host of problems for the young mother, lessened education, higher incidents of living in poverty, increased risks for depression and health problems during the pregnancy, etc. New studies have also pointed to problems for children of teen mothers in school and with academic progress, namely that children born to teen mothers have more problems in school.

As early as kindergarten, children who were born to mothers age 19 or older tend to perform better on tests than children born to younger mothers, researchers found. The data came from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort, which followed over 14,000 U.S. students between 1998 and 2007. That research tracked students’ math and reading scores in third, fifth, and eighth grades, after initially assessing them in kindergarten. As the students got older, children with older mothers continued to have higher test scores than their peers.

The research also found that if a young mother continued her education after having children, her children went on to perform better on tests than they would if their mother had stopped her education after giving birth. However, within this group, a knowledge gap still existed between children with younger mothers and those with older mothers.

In my own experience dealing with teen mothers, I have found that teen mothers don’t know how to prepare their children for school. Because they are so young and haven’t finished their educations themselves, these young moms are not equipped to help their children succeed in school or prepare for school when their children get to that age. It’s not surprising that teen moms who haven’t finished schooling would have children who struggled with schooling. Even when a teen mom goes back to school and finishes her education, her children still tend to struggle in school or achieve less educational pursuits than their peers. What gives?

Teen mothers struggle to pursue their own educations, and they rarely make it through school in a traditional manner or on a traditional timeline, which means that they may struggle with teaching their children how to make it through school or attain higher levels of education. For teen moms who do continue their education, the results are beneficial. Teen moms who continue with their educational instruction have children who do better in school than teen moms who skip out on school themselves:

Children of young mothers may also be less likely to pursue higher levels of education. A 2010 study in the United Kingdom found that a child’s odds of staying in school increased for every year a mother continued her own education. According to theNational Conference of State Legislatures, only 40 percent of teen mothers finish high school and just 2 percent complete college by age 30.

Teen moms who don’t finish high school are ill-equipped to prepare their children for a schooling system that they rejected themselves. The rates of poverty that emerge from this lack of education are astronomical, making teen pregnancy a life-changing course that is difficult to overcome:

Thirty percent of all teenage girls who drop out of school cite pregnancy and parenthood as key reasons. Rates among Hispanic (36 percent)  and African American (38 percent) girls are higher. Educational achievement affects the lifetime income of teen mothers: two-thirds of families started by teens are poor, and nearly one in four will depend on welfare within three years of a child’s birth. Many children will not escape this cycle of poverty. Only about two-thirds of children born to teen mothers earn a high school diploma, compared to 81 percent of their peers with older parents.

Basically, though, the more education the mother has, the more likely her children are to succeed in school and attain higher levels of education:

This summer, a study from the Foundation for Child Development compared children whose mothers had not graduated high school with children whose mothers had graduated from college. They found that children with mothers who graduated from college generally had higher family income and better reading proficiency. Children whose mothers did not graduate from high school, on the other hand, were more likely themselves not to graduate high school on time.

Mothers who don’t make it through the educational system have children who don’t make it through the educational system. It’s pretty simple, but the long lasting effects are startling. According to a recent study, children of mothers who don’t graduate from high school generally make around $25,000/year compared with children of college-educated mothers who make over six figures or over $100,000/year:

Children of mothers who did not graduate high school had a median household income $25,000. Children of mothers who graduated college had a median household income of $106,500.

Huffington Post has a good breakdown of this study, complete with graphics.  Again, the more educated the mother is, the better her children tend to score on school tests of proficiency:

Sixteen percent of children whose mothers did not graduate high school were reading proficiently in eighth grade. Forty-nine percent of children whose mothers graduated college were reading proficiently at that age.Sixteen percent of children whose mothers did not complete high school were deemed proficient at math in eighth grade. On the other hand, 52 percent of children whose mothers graduated college were proficient in math at the same age.

That sixteen percent is consistent. Children of mothers who failed to graduate from high school overwhelmingly fail to graduate from high school, at a rate of 40% compared to women who graduated from college who had only 2% fail to graduate from high school. Since almost half of teen moms fail to graduate from high school, and a mother’s lack of education directly affects her children’s education, it makes sense that children born to teen moms have more problems in school, earn less as adults, and are unlikely to graduate from high school themselves, ensuring that pattern of poverty continues.



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