Study: When a child's birth is unplanned

Apr 30, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- One-third of all children born in the United States are the result of unintended pregnancies and not only do these children receive less attention and warmth from their parents than children whose births were planned, so do their older siblings, a new study shows.

The study, conducted by University of Michigan sociologist Jennifer Barber and University of California, San Diego, sociologist Patricia East, analyzed data from a national sample of more than 3,000 mothers and their 6,000 children representing a broad socioeconomic spectrum. The families were studied over a period of eight years, from 1986 through 2004. The study is published in the May issue of .

Funding for the analysis was provided by the National Institute for Child Health and Development.

"Our study underscores the important role of children's birth intention status in distributing parenting resources to children within a family," said Barber, a research professor at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR) and an associate professor in the U-M Department of Sociology.

For the study, women who had recently given birth were asked, "Just before you became pregnant, did you want to become pregnant when you did?" If they answered yes, the birth was classified as intended. If they answered no, they were then asked if they wanted another baby, just not at that time, or whether they didn't want a baby at all. The researchers found that 24 percent of pregnancies were mistimed, and 10 percent were unwanted.

The researchers examined two types of resources parents provide to their children: home learning materials and opportunities, and maternal warmth and responsiveness. They used mothers' reports and interviewer observations to assess how many children's books were in the home, for example, and how often parents read to the child and taught the child new skills, including counting and learning the alphabet.

They assessed the mother's parenting style, the time the family spent together, the time the father spent with the child, and the extent to which parents promoted the child's independence. They also observed the mothers' direct interactions with the children, including conversations and spanking or slapping.

The researchers found a statistically significant and consistent relationship between the intention status of a child's birth and these scores. Across the income range, children whose births were unintended had access to fewer family resources and less maternal warmth. And the resources provided to older children decreased more after the birth of an unintended child than it did after the birth of a child that was intended.

"Inequitable parental treatment is known to have significant long-term negative effects on the adjustment and self-esteem of the slighted child," Barber and East wrote. "It is certainly plausible that parents' tendency to treat unwanted children more harshly in general, as well as their tendency to be more harsh in parenting unwanted children in comparison to wanted children, contribute to the poor outcomes of unwanted ." These outcomes include disproportionately high rates of school failure, behavior problems and low self-esteem.

Barber is currently conducting another study on unintended pregnancy using a new, prospective measure that she hopes will elucidate the complex feelings young women often have about getting pregnant, and illuminate why rates of unintended pregnancies and births remain relatively high.

Provided by University of Michigan

Explore further: A two generation lens: Current state policies fail to support families with young children

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Study: verbal aggression may affect children's behavior

Aug 04, 2008

The methods mothers use to control their children during playtime and other daily activities could have a negative impact on their child's self-esteem and behavior, according to a new Purdue University study.

Recommended for you

Scholar tracks the changing world of gay sexuality

Sep 19, 2014

With same-sex marriage now legalized in 19 states and laws making it impossible to ban homosexuals from serving in the military, gay, lesbian and bisexual people are now enjoying more freedoms and rights than ever before.

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

noosfractal
not rated yet Apr 30, 2009
Wow, this study is right up there with "smart people make better economic decisions."
david_42
not rated yet Apr 30, 2009
Unless I'm reading this wrong, "another" would imply this study ignores all first births. Given the number of unwed mothers out there (80% in some groups), I suspect unwanted first births are even more common.
denijane
not rated yet May 01, 2009
I think the numbers of the parents with unwanted or mistimed births are much more. Because if you just had your baby, would you admit you didn't want it? It's not a good thing to say. Maybe if it's mistimed, yes, but to admit that it's totally unwanted-I don't think that many mothers would do that.

And I absolutely agree with their conclusion. Sometimes you're just not ready for a baby and if the society presses you, it could become ugly for the poor little thing.
RFC
not rated yet May 01, 2009
"If they were wanted when they were younger, they wouldn't be wanted when they're older."

This study addresses the first part of that saying. At least one other study positively correlated the availability of abortion procedures to reduced crime rates in the corresponding cities.