This article explores changes in childbearing practices among Gypsy (Roma) women in a small village in Northern Hungary. The author benefited from several years of ethnographic field research and data collected in this village, where the proportion of the out-of-wedlock births and births to teenage—mostly Gypsy—mothers have increased by a factor of three in the past 10 years as the population of the village has become more and more impoverished and the opportunities for geographic or social mobility declined sharply for the ethnic minority. The author argues that bearing children early is a sign of passage to adulthood in this group of women, a function which had been assigned to other social institutions before 1989. Early childbearing at the same time exacerbates the problem of Gypsy women: this is the first study which documents the consequences of poverty on women's and children's health by showing an increase in low birth weight babies in the community since 1989.

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