In this thesis I discuss how having a child at a young age affects the life projects of young girls. In the fall of 2008 I did qualitative interviews with nine young mothers living in an Argentinean shantytown, which provide the basis for the analysis. My research showes that the majority of my informants experience their pregnancy as mistimed - they wanted to become mothers, but would have preferred to finish secondary school before having children.
Since the post-war era, young mothers have been a stigmatized group in many countries. Early motherhood has been said to be the cause of bad health, poverty and bleak future aspects. Thus, this has been classified as a social problem and something that ought to be minimized. Later research has shown that a lot of these effects are a result of poverty rather than the age of becoming a mother in itself. The negative consequences are also smaller than previously thought. This contra-hegemonic twist within the research has been based on qualitative research methods, to include the voices of the girls themselves, and also to obtain a more nuanced picture of young motherhood.
In 2008, Argentina was still affected by the neo-liberal economy of the 90s, as well as the social and economic crisis that hit the country in 2001. The ones who were hit the hardest were the young and poor. Growing up in poverty and unemployment also has different effects depending on gender. In a context with reduced possibilities of education and work, motherhood can be considered a preferable life project by many girls. In Argentina today, 16% of all children are born from a teenage mother. However, the number varies with geography and social class. In Villa Soldati, where my informants live, teenage mothers give birth to one third of all children.
With this backdrop, I wanted to find out how an early entry into motherhood affected the life projects of teenage girls. To answer this I covered aspects such as; What was the context of the pregnancy? Was this an interruption – and of what? And how did having a child affect their life project and their future plans?
There are several interesting findings in my research. All the girls classified their pregnancy as unexpected. However, despite knowing there was a risk of getting pregnant, the majority of my informants used contraception higly irregularly. In addition to cultural restrictions related to sexuality and gender, it seems as there might have been a lack of motivation not to get pregnant. The girls who were most committed to education were also more motivated to postpone motherhood, by using contraception and considering abortion. This underlines the importance of a future project other than motherhood.
Education represented a hope of social mobility and material security, but was also valued for its ability to create a social identity, set a good example and being a part of being a good mother. Following motherhood, some managed to continue their education with the support of their family, partner and a flexible school system. For others, lack of child care and financial restrictions were some of the challenges that created problems for their schooling, even though some of them were still motivated to continue. However, for the majority of them, their main life project was to finish school, have their own house and a family. Therefore, having a child at this age would mean a change and adaption to the original plan rather than a break from it. For some of the girls who aspired to university education, having a child reduced their ambitions and led them to adapt to a shorter career. Once a mother, future projections revolved around working, getting a house and provide for a good future for their children.
My findings seem to confirm earlier research on the field, not only from Argentina but also from countries such as UK and USA. However, there is a need for underlining the heterogeneity within the group of young mothers. Further knowledge about the construction of future projects as well as the effects of an unplanned child is highly necessary. Not only for creating a sociological understanding of the lives millions of young women live, but also for finding new ways of adopting to unplanned motherhood and reducing the negative effects for mother and child.