Understanding the causes of early childbearing is important for reducing the persistently high rates of early births in the United States. Perceptions of possible benefits may contribute to these rates, while high opportunity costs may dissuade women from early childbearing.
Perceptions of costs and benefits of pregnancy, as well as later experiences of pregnancy, were assessed for 701 nulligravid women aged 18–22 who entered the Relationship Dynamics and Social Life study in 2008–2009 and were interviewed weekly for up to 30 months. Bivariate t tests, chi-square tests and multivariable discrete-time event history analyses were used to assess associations of perceived personal consequences of childbearing (e.g., predicted financial costs), goals in potentially competing domains (opportunity costs) and social norms with subsequent pregnancy.
Twenty percent of women reported that early childbearing would have more positive than negative personal consequences. Compared with other women, those who had a pregnancy during follow-up had, at baseline, more positive perceptions of the personal consequences of pregnancy and of their friends’ approval of pregnancy, and greater desire for consumer goods. In multivariable analyses, only the scales assessing perceived personal consequences of childbearing and friends’ approval of childbearing were associated with pregnancy (odds ratios, 2.0 and 1.2, respectively). Goals in potentially competing domains were not associated with pregnancy.
Young women's perceptions of consequences of early childbearing predict subsequent pregnancy. That these perceptions are distinct from childbearing desires and from other dimensions of costs and benefits illustrates the complex attitudinal underpinnings of reproductive behavior.
Sarah R. Hayford is associate professor, Department of Sociology, Ohio State University, Columbus. Karen Benjamin Guzzo is associate professor, Department of Sociology, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH. Yasamin Kusunoki is assistant professor, Department of Systems, Populations and Leadership; and Jennifer S. Barber is professor, Department of Sociology—both at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.