Childbearing postponement and child wellbeing in the U.K: reconciling and integrating different perspectives.
PhD thesis, The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).
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.
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