BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES
The nature and magnitude of the cognitive and mental health risks among the offspring of young mothers is not fully understood. Our objective is to examine the risk of mental disorders in these offspring.
Five databases (Medline, Embase, Web of Science, PsycINFO, and CINAHL) were searched from their inceptions until February 2022. Studies were eligible if they assessed offspring of young mothers (<21 years), contained a control group, and assessed any cognitive and/or mental health outcomes. Random-effects meta-analysis was used to generate standardized mean differences (SMDs) in infants (0–3 years), children (4–9), adolescents (10–19), and adults (20+). Methodological bias was assessed using the Newcastle-Ottawa Scale.
51 outcomes were meta-analyzed. Levels of cognitive and learning problems were higher among the infants (SMD = 0.30 [95% confidence interval 0.0–0.55]) and adolescents (SMD = 0.43 [0.24 to 0.62]) of young mothers. Adolescents had more symptoms of delinquency (SMD = 0.24 [0.12 to 0.36]). As adults, they are more often convicted of violent crimes (SMD = 0.36 [0.22 to 0.50]). Internalizing symptoms were higher in these offspring in childhood (SMD = 0.29 [0.14 to 0.45]) and adulthood (SMD = 0.35 [0.34 to 0.36]). This review uses unadjusted data and is thus unequipped to infer causality. Studies have high attrition and rely heavily on self-report.
Young mothers’ offspring have more cognitive, externalizing, and internalizing problems across the lifespan than individuals born to mothers ≥21 years of age. They may benefit from early detection and support.