Legacies of Advantage and Disadvantage: The Case of Teen Mothers


Lee SmithBattle, Saint Louis University School of Nursing, 3525 Caroline Mall, St. Louis, MO 63104-1099. E-mail: smithli@slu.edu


ABSTRACT Objectives: The life trajectories of teen mothers and their children were examined with data from a larger longitudinal study.

Design: All 5 waves of the study were designed from the hermeneutic tradition.

Sample: Sixteen families began the study in 1988–1989 (Time 1) and were invited to participate in subsequent studies (1993, 1997, 2001, and 2005). Twenty-eight informants participated in the fifth wave of the study (Time 5).

Measurement: This analysis capitalized on the diversity of teen mothers' family backgrounds to examine the life chances of mothers and their first-born children as mothers entered their 30s. Three domains are addressed: teen mothers' educational attainment, their social class status, and their oldest child's school progress and sexual activity.

Results: Teen mothers' life trajectories reflected legacies of unequal life chances that began in childhood and persisted into their 30s. Mothers with childhood advantages fared better over time than impoverished mothers, and a legacy of advantage contributed to a cushion of safety and opportunity for their teenaged children.

Conclusion: The powerful legacy of social class and racial divisions on teen mothers' long-term outcomes challenges the view that teen mothering leads to a downward spiral with negative repercussions for mothers and children.