Adolescent Mothers, Family Processes, and Delinquency

Thomas Vander Ven, Ohio University
Francis T. Cullen, University of Cincinnati
Michael G. Turner, Univ. of North Carolina at Charlotte

Although adolescent childbearing has decreased significantly in the United States in the past decade, American rates of teen births are still dramatically higher than rates in other developed nations. One of the common concerns voiced by policymakers and social commentators is that teen motherhood contributes to the American crime problem because relatively younger mothers are not prepared to properly socialize their children. We investigate the effefcts of maternal age on family processes and delinquency through a secondary data analysis of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY). Following an approach constructed by Nagin, Farrington, and Pogarsky (1997), we trace the influence of adolescent motherhood through three competing avenues that were hypothesized to increase the probability of criminal involvement in the children of young mothers. The first explanation, the life course-immaturity account, predicts that younger mothers produce antisocial behavior in their children due to their inability to be mature, sensitive, and effective parents. The second explanation, the persistent poor parenting-role modeling account, predicts that those who bear children in adolescence are likely to be those least suited to be good parents. Early fertility, it is assumed, is likely to be caused by a stable personality trait characterized by impulsivity, self-centeredness, and lack of foresight. The final approach--the diminished resources account--predicts that the children of adolescent mothers are more prone to criminal behavior because they are more likely to experience improverishment and lack of social and cultural resources. Our findings suggest that the criminal involvement in the offspring of adolescent mothers is best explained by a combination of family and economic factors.

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Updated 05/20/2006