A new study says a woman’s health at age 40 is linked to how old she was when she had her first baby.
We’ve heard a lot about the negative social and economic effects of teen parenting. But now researchers have found one small bright spot: According to a new study, teen mothers aren’t at a higher risk for health problems later in life than women who start having children in their 20s.
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Researchers at The Ohio State University compared women who had their first baby as teens (ages 15-19), during early adulthood (ages 20-24), and when they were older (ages 25-35). And while the results showed that women who were age 25 to 35 when they had their first birth reported better health at age 40 than the two younger groups, there was no significant difference in midlife health for those with teen births compared to those who waited until they were between ages 20 and 24.
“We’ve had all this focus on the bad effects of teen childbearing and never really asked what happens if these teens waited to early adulthood,” said Kristi Williams, a lead author of the study. “The assumption has been that of course, it is better to wait. But at least when it comes to the later health of the mother, that isn’t necessarily true.”
Another suprise: The study also countered the notion that women who have a baby outside of marriage will be healthier if they get hitched. In fact, single black women who had a child and later married actually reported worse health at midlife than those who had a baby but stayed single.
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“Ours is the first U.S. study to find that having your first child in young adulthood is associated with worse self-assessed health decades later for white and black women, when compared to those who wait until they are over 24,” Willimas said, adding that the results suggest public policies encouraging marriage among single mothers may have some unintended negative consequences.
“Most studies indicate that marriage promotion efforts have been unsuccessful in increasing marriage rates,” she said. “Our findings suggest that may be a good thing, at least for black women’s health.”
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Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer, blogger, and a mom. Check out her website holleeactmanbecker.com for more, and follow her on Twitter at @holleewoodworld.