, Volume 55, Issue 6, pp 2229–2255 | Cite as

Maternal Age and Child Development

  • Greg J. Duncan
  • Kenneth T. H. LeeEmail author
  • Maria Rosales-Rueda
  • Ariel Kalil


Although the consequences of teen births for both mothers and children have been studied for decades, few studies have taken a broader look at the potential payoffs—and drawbacks—of being born to older mothers. A broader examination is important given the growing gap in maternal ages at birth for children born to mothers with low and high socioeconomic status. Drawing data from the Children of the NLSY79, our examination of this topic distinguishes between the value for children of being born to a mother who delayed her first birth and the value of the additional years between her first birth and the birth of the child whose achievements and behaviors at ages 10–13 are under study. We find that each year the mother delays a first birth is associated with a 0.02 to 0.04 standard deviation increase in school achievement and a similar-sized reduction in behavior problems. Coefficients are generally as large for additional years between the first and given birth. Results are fairly robust to the inclusion of cousin and sibling fixed effects, which attempt to address some omitted variable concerns. Our mediational analyses show that the primary pathway by which delaying first births benefits children is by enabling mothers to complete more years of schooling.


Child development Maternal age Fertility Child achievement 



This study was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number P01HD065704. The authors thank Kathleen Ziol-Guest and seminar participants at the 2015 Irvine Network on Interventions in Development conference and the 2015 annual meeting of the Population Association of America for helpful comments and discussions, and Marianne Bitler for sharing data on changes in abortion laws across states between 1979 and 1998.

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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Greg J. Duncan
    • 1
  • Kenneth T. H. Lee
    • 1
    Email author
  • Maria Rosales-Rueda
    • 2
  • Ariel Kalil
    • 3
  1. 1.University of California, IrvineIrvineUSA
  2. 2.Rutgers UniversityNewarkUSA
  3. 3.University of ChicagoChicagoUSA

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