Living at home helps young mothers stay in school

Federal law requires that unmarried, minor-aged mothers who receive public assistance live at home (or in an approved adult-supervised setting). One rationale for this policy is that a young mother's parents might help her finish school if the family shares a home. Yet critics of the policy worry about the potential harm if the young mothers' parents can't or won't provide help with the baby. Plus, staying in their parents' home might be stressful or even dangerous if the daughters didn't get along with their parents before the baby was born, or if family relationships were abusive.

To explore this issue, we used the Infant Health and Development Program (IHDP), a survey that followed more than 550 mothers and their low birthweight, premature babies from birth through age 3. We focused on mothers who were 13 to 25 when their children were born. The study measured school enrollment six times during the three-year period, and parenting skills twice, including whether young mothers knew the age at which children typically accomplished certain milestones, the rigidity of their parenting beliefs, and the level of warmth and learning stimulation in their interactions with their child.

We found that living at home helped teenage mothers stay in school during the first two years of their babies' lives but had little effect on their parenting. In contrast to our study, prior research had found that young mothers who lived at home were less skilled as parents.

Our findings suggest that this correlation may not reflect a true consequence of living at home. Rather, some characteristics of the young mothers (such as their maturity level) may have resulted in their staying home and their problems parenting their toddler. Thus, instead of being a causal factor for poor parenting, living at home is a marker for young mothers who are at risk for poor parenting.

On the other hand, our results suggest that more schooling may be a real outcome of

Contact: Karen Melnyk
Society for Research in Child Development

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