Depoliticizing Teen Pregnancy

Teen parenting is unnervingly prevalent among the at-risk kids we encounter in our filming.  All but one of the girls from our previous series were parents, have become parents since, or are married.   Several of the boys were on their way to having multiple children.

If you think this is an issue that doesn't affect you, consider this finding: teen childbearing in the United States costs taxpayers (federal, state, and local) at least $9.1 billion, according to a 2006 report by Saul Hoffman, Ph.D. and published by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Most of the costs of teen childbearing are associated with negative consequences for the children of teen mothers, including increased costs for health care, foster care, and incarceration.

It would be easy to imagine teen pregnancy as a problem seated in the poverty class, but that simply is not borne out by the facts.  Research conducted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy (hyperlink to research?) found that about 7 in 10 teen pregnancies occur with kids from middle class families.

Still, the prevalence of teen pregnancy in lower classes is alarming. Factoring the NCPTUP findings with the size of the middle vs poverty classes, one finds that the per capita teen pregnancy among kids living below the poverty level is roughly twice that of middle class kids.

Teen parenting is understandably linked to educational dropout, which is one of the primary factors in the limitation of upward mobility from the lower income strata.  And the rates of dropout are on the rise.  As reported in the New York Times: 

In 1970, a female high school dropout had a 17 percent chance of becoming a single mother (versus 2 percent for a woman with a bachelor’s degree). By 2007, her chances had jumped to a whopping 49 percent (versus 7 percent for the B.A. holder). Nearly all new mothers with graduate training, but only half of high school dropout mothers, are married.

But I don't want to bog down into statistics and class discussions (if you DO want to get a little bogged down in stats, they are fascinating.  Check out the reports at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy's web site).

What I know is that an alarming number of kids who wind up in the justice and welfare systems are parents.

So I raise the question: how would this segment of society differ, how would it be improved, how would resources be better allocated, child care, health care and education be more accessible, if we somehow got a reign on teen pregnancy?

We've met enough teen mothers to know that while they love their children dearly, the decision to become a parent at 15 was a reckless one that forever altered their path in life.  And this admission is never offered without tears. 

There have been some promising reports about abstinence-only education, and sex education plays a role as well, but locking horns of that debate seems to distract from the issue (ah, the ways of politics).  We need to find out what's working, who's making a difference and championing those efforts through replication.

If you know of a program that has been effective in helping tackle this issue, or if you have a story to share, leave a note in the comments section.

Posted on June 29, 2010 and filed under The Issues.