Chapter 1 Preface
The 1950s and 1960s saw the highest recorded rates of teenage childbearing in the United States, as 90 out of 1,000 teenage girls gave birth in the late 1950s. Statistics reflect a significant decline to 48.7 births per 1,000 teenagers in 1999. Despite this decrease, many people argue that the problems associated with teenage pregnancy and childbearing are more serious today than they were in the 1950s and 1960s.
Some people contend that the problem lies not in the rates of pregnancy and childbearing, but in the decline of marriage among teenagers. In 1960, the percentage of unmarried teenage births was 15 percent, but today about 80 percent of teenage pregnancies and 75 percent of teenage births are to unmarried girls. In the 1950s and 1960s, premarital sex was widely considered immoral, and the lack of reliable birth control often quickly revealed a teenager’s indiscretion. The desire to avoid the social stigma that accompanied an unwed pregnancy forced many teenagers into shotgun weddings. While these marriages may not have been ideal, divorce was rare and young mothers had the financial security of husbands and help raising their children.
The 1960s and 1970s brought the sexual revolution, birth control, and the legalization of abortion in 1973. Many experts argue that these social changes shifted the public view of sexuality and marriage. The freedom that accompanied personal control over one’s fertility manifested as freer sexual...
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Teenage Pregnancy Is a Serious Problem
Recent declines in the teenage birth rate are encouraging, but we see little cause for complacency. The U.S. teenage birth rate remains two to ten times higher than teenage birth rates in other industrialized nations. Teenage parents complete fewer years of school than older parents, and their limited educational attainment undermines their employment prospects. Their children are at greater risk of poor birth outcomes and, as they grow older, have poorer cognitive, behavioral, and school outcomes. Finally, because the vast majority of teenage births (76 percent) occur outside of marriage, many teenage mothers and their children face the challenges associated with living in a single-parent family, including lower income and greater demands on a mother’s time and attention.
Researchers at Child Trends, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center, have studied this issue for two decades from several vantage points. We track and analyze trends in teenage sexual behavior, pregnancy, and childbearing. We study the antecedents and consequences of teenage childbearing. We explore factors that might discourage too-early parenthood, as well as those that place adolescents at risk. We examine the effectiveness of programs and cultural messages intended to discourage teenage child-bearing, and we empirically test hypotheses to explain changes in the teenage birth rate nationally and variation in teenage birth rates across the states.
As a result, we are...
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The Media Exaggerate the Problem of Teenage Pregnancy
Arecent round of media attention focused on the “tragedy” of teenage pregnancy, casting the unmarried teenaged mother as the source of virtually all of society’s ills. Papers and pundits were moved to florid prose on teen mothers’ “world of warped morals and wasted lives that affects the quality of life for all of us.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
Various indicators on birth rates and poverty rates were tossed around to document the “social catastrophe.” (Detroit News) No serious analysis was needed, since it was obvious to bipartisan politicians and media alike that the “soaring birth rate among welfare mothers” (Chicago Sun-Times) is “the smoking gun in a sickening array of pathologies—crime, drug abuse, physical and mental illness, welfare dependency.” (Newsweek) USA Today reported in a near-panic: “Beyond the drugs and the gunfire lies what is perhaps the most shocking of social pathologies: rates of out-of-wedlock births.”
The most recent round of finger-pointing was largely touched off by a Wall Street Journal op-ed by the American Enterprise Institute’s Charles Murray, which contended that “illegitimacy is the single most important social problem of our time—more important than crime, drugs, poverty, illiteracy, welfare or homelessness, because it drives everything else.”
Murray’s call for denial of all government support to any unmarried woman who...
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Teenagers Can Make Good Parents
Sixteen kids and 20 adults stroll through the kitchen, past huge deep fryers and walk-in freezers and down a flight of narrow stairs to one of a few small party rooms in the basement. Shannon Felix, the mother of the three boys turning three today, freezes. She’s forgotten her camera and takes a moment to berate herself. But quickly she’s back to orchestrating the event: taking orders from the kids, chatting with guests and moving presents out of the way with one hand while wiping a messy nose or sticky fingers with the other. Her sons, all in matching fleece outfits, sing “Happy birthday to us,” take turns on their father’s lap and sit wideeyed and upright when their small cake with thick blue and white icing arrives. It’s a ’90s Norman Rockwell, the picture of middle-class average. A Sunday afternoon at Playland in a suburban McDonald’s.
Hard to believe Shannon’s only 19, which makes her the worst kind of stereotype—a teen mom. It’s a loaded label that makes no distinction between a married 18-year-old and a 14-year-old dropout. Despite her performance today, Shannon, pregnant at 15 and with three sons at 16, was a conspicuous example of social decay, the demise of the traditional family, one more baby having babies.
Before the end of her first trimester, Shannon knew she was having triplets. A Catholic, she’d already made the decision not to abort. “It was my mistake, not theirs,”...
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Teenage Parents Face Daunting Challenges
Teen pregnancy is very common all over the world.
Teens from the ages of ten to nineteen years old are having babies. In a sense, babies are having babies. Pregnancy and giving birth to a child is a very big responsibility. Many teens that become pregnant have abortions, put their babies up for adoption, or just do not take care of them at all. Is it right for teens to be getting pregnant at such a young age? Why is this happening in our society where there is so much education available? These are questions that are asked throughout the world.
How Bad Is the Problem?
The United States has the highest rates of teen pregnancy and births in the world. Four out of ten young women become pregnant at least once before they reach the age of twenty. Eight out of ten of these pregnancies are unintended.
The teen birth rate declined 18 percent from 1991 to 1998 for teens aged fifteen to nineteen. It is said that the younger a teenage girl is when she has sexual intercourse for the first time, the more likely she is to have had unwanted or non-voluntary sexual intercourse. Close to four out of ten girls who had intercourse at thirteen or fourteen years of age [claim that the sex] was either non-voluntary or unwanted.
The person who suffers the consequences the most are the teen mothers themselves. Teen mothers are less likely to complete and graduate high school and more likely to end up on welfare [than teen girls...
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