Transition To Motherhood
In the United States, women are under tremendous pressure to bear children, and motherhood is often associated with their maturity and achievement in life. Becoming a mother is also considered to be a "normal" life course stage for women. This perception is also common in other societies. For example, Angelina Yuen-Tsang (1997) reported that many Chinese women accepted without question the view that childbearing was a natural and necessary part of their family life course; therefore, few ever considered the option of not having children. The pressure for women's childbearing is derived not only from their personal network of relatives and friends but also from society. In Japan, where low fertility rates have been of great governmental concern, young women are frequently accused of being selfish when they pursue higher education or prolong employment that distracts women from their "primary" duty of motherhood ( Jolivet 1997).
Despite these societal and familial pressures, an increasing number of women today are either choosing not to have children or delaying childbearing until midlife. According to U.S. Bureau of Census data (1998), 23 percent of women between the ages of thirty-five and forty-four remained childless in 1992. This figure increased to 26.5 percent in 1999. Moreover, the percentage of mothers who gave birth at age twenty-four or younger decreased during the 1990s (U.S. National Center for Health Statistics 2001). In 1992, approximately 39 percent of total live births came from women younger than twenty-four, whereas 59 percent of live births came from mothers in between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-nine. In 1999, 36 percent of mothers were younger than twenty-four when they gave birth whereas 61 percent of live births came from mothers in between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-nine. Many women who choose to delay the birth of their first child wish to enjoy an autonomous life for themselves and achieve career objectives before beginning the tasks of parenting (Wilkie 1987).
Although contemporary motherhood can be seen as a choice for many women, some pregnancies occur without a conscious decision. Many of these unplanned pregnancies occur among teenage women. The causes of unplanned pregnancy are often complicated. Despite the availability of information about reproduction, many teenagers do not seem to understand how conception takes place and believe that they are somehow immune to pregnancy. Some researchers have attributed adolescent pregnancy to the individual's self perception, and have suggested that low self-esteem is a factor, or to social causes such as family problems and poverty. Most importantly, however, adolescents become pregnant because they frequently lack the judgment necessary to deal with their sexuality.
In a number of studies focusing on teenage mothers, poverty and child abuse have been found to be persistent problems (Geronimus and Korenman 1992). Children of teen parents are also found to be disadvantaged in terms of cognitive performance, and daughters of teen mothers are likely to give birth in their teens (Manlove 1997).