Volume 40 - Article 27 | Pages 761–798  

Age at first birth and subsequent fertility: The case of adolescent mothers in France and England and Wales

By John Tomkinson


Objective: If adolescent mothers are the subject of much research, little interest has concentrated upon their lives following an early entry into motherhood – especially with regard to their subsequent fertility. In this study I aim to analyse how the fertility of adolescent mothers over the life course varies from that of older first-time mothers. I compare the situations in France, where adolescent motherhood is rare, and England and Wales, which has traditionally had one of the highest rates of adolescent motherhood amongst industrialised countries.

Methods: I study the reproductive trajectories of more than 72,000 women born between 1959 and 1976 following the birth of their first child using the Insee Permanent demographic sample (EDP) in France and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Longitudinal Study (LS) in England and Wales.

Results: In both countries, the sooner a woman experiences her first birth, the more children she will have, and the youngest first-time mothers resist the norm of a two-child family. However, a higher quantum of fertility does not correspond to a rapid rhythm of childbearing. Adolescent mothers have their subsequent children at wider spaced intervals which, coupled with a higher number of children, lengthens their reproductive career.

Contribution: This study contributes to the literature on adolescent childbearing by taking a longitudinal view of the fertility of women having become mothers during their adolescence. Comparing adolescent mothers to three groups of older first-time mothers offers a more nuanced approach than the traditional binary adolescent versus non-adolescent mother dichotomy.

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