The Experiences of Mothers Aged Under 20: Analysis of Growing Up in Scotland Data - Research Findings

Analysis of Growing Up in Scotland data on the circumstances of first-time mothers in Scotland who were aged under 20 at the time of the child’s birth. Data collected up to the child’s sixth birthday were used to compare these circumstances with those of mothers who were aged 20 to 24 and aged 25 or older at the time of their child’s birth.

Main findings

This project involved in-depth analysis of data from the Growing Up in Scotland study (GUS) to explore the characteristics, circumstances and experiences of first-time mothers in Scotland aged under 20 at the time of the child's birth and examine how they compare with those of older mothers in two age groups - those aged 20 to 24 and those aged 25 or older. Understanding the extent to which the challenges that these young mothers face are different to those experienced by mothers aged 20 to 24, and 25 and above helps to explore what extra support teenage mothers might need and whether some of this extra support might also benefit slightly older mothers. The findings from this report will be crucial in informing the development of the Scottish Government's teenage pregnancy and young parent strategy, due for publication in spring 2015.

GUS is an important longitudinal research project aimed at tracking the lives of several cohorts of Scottish children through the early years and beyond. The study is funded by the Scottish Government and carried out by ScotCen Social Research. Information from children and families in the second birth cohort - which involves 6000 children born between March 2010 and February 2011 - was used to provide a current picture of the circumstances of mothers under 20 from pregnancy through to when their child is aged 10 months old. Data from children and families in the first birth cohort - which involves around 5000 children born between June 2004 and May 2005 - was used to explore how the circumstances and characteristics of mothers who were under 20 at the child's birth change as their child ages from two to six years old. Analysis was restricted to cases where the child was the mother's first born.

  • When their child was aged 10 months, mothers aged under 20 had significantly fewer qualifications, lower incomes and were less likely to be employed than those aged 20 to 24, and particularly those aged 25 or above. For example, 17% had qualifications at Higher Grade or above compared with 50% of mothers in their early twenties and 80% of those aged 25 or older.
  • In all measures of socio-economic characteristics, mothers aged 20-24 were relatively advantaged when compared with the youngest group - having more qualifications, more likely to be in employment and having higher average incomes - yet nevertheless were at a significant disadvantage when compared with older mothers.
  • Mothers aged under 20 and those in their early twenties rated themselves similarly on measures of general health and mental wellbeing, reporting poorer health than those aged 25 or older.
  • When the child was aged 10 months, mothers aged under 20 were three times more likely to smoke cigarettes than those aged 25 and over (47% compared with 13%).
  • Mothers younger than 25, and particularly those under 20, tended to report poorer health behaviours during their pregnancy than those aged 25 or older. They were less likely to use supplements such as folic acid and vitamin D, more likely to smoke and, amongst those who smoked when they became pregnant, less likely to stop. They also had poorer perceptions of their general health during pregnancy.
  • 22% of mothers aged under 20 and 28% of mothers in their early twenties attended all or most ante-natal classes compared with 67% of those aged 25 or older. Overall, younger mothers were less likely to have sought out or used a range of sources of advice or support.
  • Younger mothers, those aged under 20 in particular, seem more wary of seeking formal support and less sure about who to ask for advice. 42% of mothers aged under 20, and 31% of those aged 20-24 agreed that it was difficult to ask people for help or advice unless you know them very well compared with 19% of mothers aged 25 or older.


Email: Liz Levy

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