Long-term Effect of Exposure to a Friend's Adolescent Childbirth on Fertility, Education, and Earnings

Published in: Journal of Adolescent Health, 2016

Posted on RAND.org on June 30, 2016

by Kandice Kapinos, Olga Yakusheva

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Research Question

  1. What is the effect of a female adolescent's exposure to a friend's adolescent childbearing on her own fertility, schooling, and earnings?

Purpose

To examine the long-term effect of a female adolescent's exposure to a peer's childbirth on fertility, schooling, and earnings.

Methods

Estimating causal peer effects in fertility is challenging because the exposure variable (peer pregnancy and childbirth) is nonrandomly assigned. Miscarriages in early pregnancy occur spontaneously in a significant proportion of pregnancies and, therefore, create a natural experiment within which the causal effect of childbirth can be examined. This exploratory study compared adjusted fertility, educational, and labor market outcomes of female adolescents whose adolescent pregnant friend gave birth to female adolescents whose pregnant friend miscarried. Longitudinal data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health were analyzed using logistic, ordinal logistic, linear, and log-linear regressions.

Results

Females whose adolescent pregnant friends gave birth (instead of miscarried) had decreased adolescent sexual activity, pregnancy, and teen childbearing and increased educational attainment, but there were no significant long-term effects on total fertility or differences in labor market outcomes, relative to females whose pregnant adolescent friend miscarried.

Conclusions

Adolescent females appear to learn vicariously from teen childbearing experiences of their friends, resulting in delayed childbearing and higher educational attainment. Interventions that expose adolescents to the reality of teen motherhood may be an effective way of reducing the rates of teen childbearing and improving schooling.

Key Findings

  • Females whose adolescent pregnant friends gave birth had decreased rates of sexual activity, pregnancy, and childbearing and increased educational attainment.
  • There were no significant long-term effects on total fertility or differences in labor market outcomes for the same teens relative to females whose pregnant adolescent friends miscarried.

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