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Exploring Variation in Teenage Mothers' and Fathers' Educational Attainment


  • Stefanie Mollborn

    Corresponding author
    1. Stefanie Mollborn is assistant professor of sociology and faculty, Institute of Behavioral Science, University of Colorado at Boulder.
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CONTEXT: A substantial body of research has compared educational outcomes of teenage parents with those of their childless peers, but less attention has gone to variations among teenage parents. Additionally, gender differences in teenage parents’ educational outcomes have rarely been studied.

METHODS: Characteristics associated with high school graduation by age 26 were assessed among 317 teenage mothers and fathers who participated in the 1988–2000 National Education Longitudinal Study. Logistic regression models included socioeconomic and educational characteristics, gender, parenting responsibilities and resources, and gender interactions.

RESULTS: Married or cohabiting teenage parents living with no or one parent had 73% lower odds of graduation than single respondents living with two parents. Gender moderated the relationships between two parenting responsibilities and the likelihood of graduation: Fathers working at least half-time were less likely than nonworking fathers to graduate (odds ratio, 0.2), and fathers who were primary caregivers had substantially elevated odds of graduating (7.4), but no similar relationships were seen among mothers. Sixty-one percent of fathers who worked but were not primary caregivers were predicted to graduate by age 26, compared with 97% of those who were nonworking primary caregivers.

CONCLUSIONS: Traditional parenting norms, according to which mothers are primary caregivers and fathers are breadwinners, do not appear to be associated with improved odds of graduating. Policies and interventions aimed at helping teenage parents graduate may be most effective if they target both genders, but some are likely to be more beneficial for one gender than the other.