Published: July 3, 2019

A new Life Course Centre Working Paper examines the experiences of young mothers in Australia through a mixed-method analysis of their social supports, personal resources, and sense of identity.

The paper, is authored by Heidi Hoffmann, a Research Assistant at the Life Course Centre and recent Sociology Honours graduate, in collaboration with Rebecca Olson, Francisco Perales and Janeen Baxter, all of The University of Queensland. It uses survey data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children to compare the circumstances of young mothers (15-24 years old) to those of older mothers (25 years and older). The paper finds that young mothers generally reported higher levels of social supports, but poorer family relationships and fewer personal resources. Specifically, they experienced a lack of education, independence from welfare, and good mental and physical health, which put them at a higher risk of multidimensional disadvantage.

In addition to survey data, this mixed-method study also incorporates in-depth interviews with nine young mothers (16-25 years old) in Southeast Queensland. This provided additional insights into how young mothers construct their sense of identity and experiences of motherhood. These personal stories showed young mothers often had difficult childhoods and strained relationships with their parents, but many reconnected with their mothers after pregnancy and found them to be important sources of support. While the young mothers who were interviewed displayed awareness of shame and stigma, it was notable that they also showed signs of having built a sense of ‘self’ grounded in pride and determination.

The paper’s findings suggest that policy efforts should be directed at interventions to improve the circumstances and outcomes of young mothers, as well as ways to shift the social status attributed to them. This could involve the promotion of alternative narratives that celebrate rather than stigmatise young motherhood, and share in the positivity young mothers feel toward their own lives.

You can read the full Working Paper, “Everyone My Age Doesn’t Know What It’s Like”: A Mixed-Method Study of Young Mothers and Social Support in Australia, here.