Is Baby a Blessing? Wantedness, Age at First Birth, and Later-Life Depression

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Research has found that both unintended and nonnormatively timed births have negative consequences, yet little is known about how birth timing and intention jointly influence mothers' mental health. This study explored how the interaction between intention and age at first birth influenced depression 5 to 13 years later by analyzing the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (N = 2,573). We found that mistimed births, when compared with wanted births, were associated with depression, but only for normatively timed transitions to motherhood. Surprisingly, teen mothers who had unwanted births had better later-life mental health than teens who had wanted or mistimed births. Among women with wanted or mistimed first births, increasing age at birth was associated with lower probabilities of depression. Most, but not all, of these effects were explained by selection factors and life circumstances. Results show the importance of examining joint effects of first birth wantedness and timing.

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Journal of Marriage and Family