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July 2001

The Behavioral Risks and Life Circumstances of Adolescent Mothers Involved With Older Adult Partners

Author Affiliations

From the Departments of Pediatrics (Ms Agurcia and Dr Wiemann) and Family and Community Medicine (Dr Volk), Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Tex; Department of Pediatrics, The Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, NY (Dr Rickert); and the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (Dr Berenson)

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2001;155(7):822-830. doi:10.1001/archpedi.155.7.822

Objective  To investigate behavioral risks and life circumstances of adolescent mothers with older (≥5 years) adult (≥20 years old) vs similar-aged (±2 years) male partners at 12 months' postpartum.

Methods  Nine hundred thirty-one adolescent females were interviewed after delivery and were mailed surveys to complete at 12 months' postpartum. Analysis by χ2 and t test was used to identify differences in behavioral risks (planned repeated pregnancy, substance use, and intimate partner violence) and life circumstances (financial status, school enrollment, and social support) for adolescent mothers with older adult vs similar-aged partners. Additional stratified analyses were conducted to evaluate the extent to which living with an adult authority figure or being with the father of her infant born 12 months previously might alter observed relationships.

Results  At 12 months following delivery, 184 adolescent mothers (20%) reported having an older adult partner, whereas 312 (34%) had a similar-aged partner. The remaining adolescent mothers (n = 239) were excluded from further analyses. Adolescent mothers with older adult partners were significantly less likely to be employed or enrolled in school and were more likely to report planned repeated pregnancies. These adolescent mothers also received less social support. No differences were observed in intimate partner violence or the mother's substance use. Adolescent mothers with older adult partners who did not live with an adult authority figure seemed to be at greatest risk.

Conclusions  The negative educational and financial impact of coupling with an older vs similar-aged partner seems greater for those mothers who no longer reside with an adult authority figure. These adolescent mothers are also at greater risk of planned rapid repeated pregnancy. Given their limited educational attainment and family support, a subsequent pregnancy may place these young women at considerable financial and educational disadvantage.