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Development of Social Variation in Reproductive Schedules: A Study from an English Urban Area

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Daniel Nettle



Background: There is striking social variation in the timing of the onset of childbearing in contemporary England, with the mean age at first motherhood about 8 years earlier in the most deprived compared to the least deprived neighbourhoods. However, relatively little is known about how these social differences in reproductive schedule develop in childhood. Methodology/Principal Findings: We studied the development of differences in reproductive schedules, using a cross-sectional survey over 1000 school students aged 9-15 in the metropolitan borough of North Tyneside. Students from more deprived neighbourhoods had earlier ideal ages for parenthood than those from more affluent ones, and these differences were fully apparent by age 11. We found evidence consistent with three mechanisms playing a role in maintaining the socioeconomic gradient. These were: vertical intergenerational transmission (students whose own parents were younger at their birth wanted children younger); oblique intergenerational transmission (students in neighbourhoods where parents were younger in general wanted children earlier); and low parental investment (students who did not feel emotionally supported by their own parents wanted children at a younger age). Conclusions/Significance: Our results shed some light on the proximate factors which may be involved in maintaining early childbearing in disadvantaged communities. They help understand why educational initiatives aimed at adolescents tend to have no effect, whereas improving the well-being of poor families with young children may do so. Our results also suggest that there will be considerable intergenerational inertia in the response of reproductive schedules to changing socioecological conditions.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Nettle D, Cockerill M

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: PLoS ONE

Year: 2010

Volume: 5

Issue: 9

Print publication date: 01/09/2010

Date deposited: 25/01/2011

ISSN (electronic): 1932-6203

Publisher: Public Library of Science


DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0012690


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Funder referenceFunder name
KH092651North Tyneside Council