Teen pregnancy

With the recent discussion of abortion, contraception, etc., I’m reminded of a recent and really good Atlantic piece about the nature of teen pregnancy.  The sub-head gets right to it:

Handing out contraception will only make dents around the edges of the problem. Giving girls a reason not to get pregnant in the first place could go a long way towards solving it.

Basically, getting contraceptives to teenagers (i.e., the Plan B debate) is not the problem.  The problem is convincing at-risk teenagers (i.e., impoverished socio-economic background) that they want to use contraceptives– crazy as that may sound to us successfull, delay parenthood, blog-reading types:

If we really want to combat teen childbearing, we need to present girls at risk of becoming pregnant with an attractive alternative. It is not enough to offer them contraception and to explain to how to use it. We need to convince them that they want to use it; that they and their children will be better off if they wait to become mothers.  [emphasis mine]

Even more challenging: We need that message to be true. This is a much more difficult proposition, but all of the evidence suggests that this is what is required — interventions that change the life trajectory of girls on the path to teen motherhood.

Ummm, I’m pretty damn sure the message is true, though.  Plenty of good evidence on that fact.   That part is actually easy.  So, what do we need to do?

Why don’t these policies [ready access to contraception] have more of an impact? We believe it is because they do not address the fundamental forces that drive most teens to have children. They focus on the immediate precursors to pregnancy, and miss a lifetime of behaviors and decisions that build towards it…

An alternative view [alternative to blaming the teenage brain] — the one we favor — is that teen childbearing is a symptom of living a life full of obstacles. Facing limited education and job prospects, as well as a slim chance of finding a suitable man to marry, some low-income girls simply ask, “Why not have a baby now?” Ethnographic work on young, single mothers supports this theory. So does economic research showing that the financial and social problems teen mothers and their children experience are mostly driven by the mother’s socio-economic background, not her decision to have a baby early in life…

We want to attack the cause — the lack of opportunity so many girls face… In general, improving educational attainment for young women seems to work.

To really drive down rates of teen childbearing, we need young women at risk of becoming teen mothers to see a reason to delay motherhood. They need to believe that they have reason to invest in their futures, and they need a viable way to do so. That is where we need to focus our efforts.

Okay, now that is hard.  But certainly well worth doing.  And we need to very much pay attention to this line of research in how we think about addressing teen pregnancy.  Until then, I still say, more IUD‘s.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

4 Responses to Teen pregnancy

  1. Doxy says:

    I am all about giving young women incentives to delay child-bearing (along with giving them access to contraceptives and safe abortions).

    But…..girls don’t get pregnant by parthenogenesis. Why is there almost never any discussion of what we need to do to get young men to take responsibility for themselves and not father children they do not want and cannot care for?

    The discussion of teen pregnancy almost always leaves out the men. That needs to stop.

    Also, as a professional sex educator, I will note that IUDs will not prevent sexually transmitted infections–some of which are silent and can damage or destroy a woman’s future ability to bear children if they aren’t caught and treated early. IUDs are best used by older women in more stable relationships.

    Maybe we ought to start discussing tying men’s penises in knots to keep them from impregnating young women? Or doing vasectomies on all boys when they reach puberty–and only reversing the procedure when they are older and in a long-term, steady partnership? [channeling Jonathan Swift]

    • Steve Greene says:

      You’re right. We really ought to do something about the males involved. But since the females are the ones having the babies, that seems much easier to address. And I like your Swiftian notion– would solve a lot of problems :-).

      • Doxy says:

        It would surely eliminate the debates about abortion! 😉

        Men who have no problem with the government exerting control over women’s bodies ought to have no problem with government doing the same to men’s, right? After all, if you want to prevent abortion, it makes sense to sterilize the males (at least temporarily), because one male can father any number of children, but a woman typically only has one child at a time…

  2. itchy says:

    I’m late to this because I was away for the weekend, but I could not agree more with Doxy’s point. It’s time to start putting the pressure on men to take responsibility as well. This is not a “female” issue.

    For every unwanted pregnancy, there is a male who is equally responsible.

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