The Multidimensional Relationship Between Early Adult Body Weight and Women's Childbearing Experiences

Published in: Social Science & Medicine, 2011

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2011

by Michelle L Frisco, Margaret Weden, Adam M. Lippert, Kristin D Burnett

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This study has three primary goals that make an important contribution to the literature on body weight and childbearing experiences among United States' women. It sheds light on the physiological and social nature of this relationship by examining whether the consequences of early adult weight for lifetime childbearing are shaped by historical social context, women's social characteristics, and their ability to marry. We analyze data from two female cohorts who participated in the National Longitudinal Study of Youth (NLSY79). Cohort 1 entered early adulthood before the U.S. obesity prevalence increased. Cohort 2 entered early adulthood after the obesity prevalence increased. We find that early adult weight is negatively related to the childbearing trajectories and marital status of Cohort 1 but not Cohort 2. Failing to account for race/ethnicity and women's educational background as confounders masks some of these associations, which are evident for both White and Black women. Our results suggest that the health consequences of body weight do not fully drive its impact on childbearing. Rather, the lifetime fertility consequences of early adult weight are malleable, involve social processes, and are dependent on social context

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