Teen Pregnancy Doesn't Lead to Poverty

Stats 19

pregnant bellyWe don't need a reality TV series to show us that life for a teen mom is tough. The conventional wisdom is that teen pregnancy leads to poverty -- especially if you never finish high school. But are we looking at this backwards?

Maybe it's not that having a baby makes teen moms poor. Maybe it's that teen moms have babies because they're poor.

That's the idea researchers Melissa Schettini Kearney and Phillip Levine considered when they took a close look at teen pregnancy. They found that it's when a teen sees that her prospects in life are dim that she chooses to become a mother.

Put another way, if a teen girl has a lot to look forward to in life -- college, a career, marriage to another college-educated person with a career -- she's going to be motivated to avoid pregnancy. She has more to lose. But if you have nothing to lose? If it looks like you'll be poor no matter what you do, what reason to you have to avoid pregnancy? At least a baby is something to look forward to.

I know this doesn't explain everything. My sister was a teen mom. We grew up in the same middle-class family. I went off to college and she became a mother at seventeen. Her reasons were complicated -- and she did finish high school, then college, and eventually married, and is now very comfortable. Maybe she's the exception that proves the rule?

What's more, the researchers also discovered that after a few years, teem moms aren't much worse off than other teens who miscarry when they become pregnant. And it doesn't matter if their state has strict abortion laws or sex ed or great parents. What matters more are things like income gaps between their family and other families around them, the educational level of their moms, and how much proof they see that hard work will actually get them ahead in life. Put that way, making teen pregnancy a matter of personal choice seems to put too much pressure on teens and not enough on all of us.

Do you agree with the researchers that teen moms have babies because they're poor?


Image via one tiny spark/Flickr

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GlowW... GlowWorm889

Uh, sorry, but MANY empirical studies beat opinion. This is Sociology 101.

elle7777 elle7777

I think socioeconomic status has a lot to do if a girl ends up pregnant. Its not necessarily being poor per se, but the family attributes that are highly related to poverty. Obviously not every teen mom comes from a poor family, but I'm willing to bet a much greater percentage do.

dreamsky dreamsky

I got pregnant at age 18 my boyfriend now husband (of 12 years, thank you very much) was going to UT Austin, he was obviously forced to drop out to take care of his responsibilities. I'm a stay at home mom and he makes six figures. We are 29.

Water... Water_geM

i love how people use anecdotal evidence to disprove statistics.

the4m... the4mutts

It doesn't surprise me that poorer teens are more likely to have babies. Every single piece of white trash I went to high school with, got pregnant at least once before graduation.

There are exceptions to every rule. But where I grew up, the lower income people were lower class as well. No standards, unclean lifestyles, unclean HOMES, drug use, underage drinkers, etc.

the4m... the4mutts

Oh, and I had a upper middle class family, and I was pregnant at 19 ONLY because I was raped. I was raised with good sex-ed, medical insurance, and access to birth control. I had a good job, and college plans.

I never wanted kids. Then my son came along... and I am a SAHM of 4 kids now :)

Things happen to people of all incme/class levels, but it doesn't disprove statistics.

jessi... jessicasmom1

I waited to have a child until I was 27 now 39 and pregnant

kit_m... kit_manson

For me, it was a matter of already being pregnant and figuring I was already a mom at that point. I agree with the article though- I have never had much to look to in life. It was never much of an option.

Megan Nelson

I agree that teens with their eye on a bright future will probably try harder NOT to get pregnant but I do not really agree that poor teens will get pregnant deliberately.

As a former teen mom myself (my son is now 15) and as a kid who grew up middle class I think that a lot of a teem mothers success after having a baby depends on how high she sets the standards for herself her child and her life. For me it was not good enough to live in poverty and work my butt off everyday to make next to no money, so I went to college and got my BA Degree. I also looked at the very best areas to live in rather than the very best apartments because I knew that if I got a huge beautiful apt in a bad neighborhood the neighbors would rub off on us. I figured the same would be true of living in a tiny apt in a great neighborhood and I was right. The social pressure to behave in a respectable way and the peer pressure on my son to always strive to do his best in school and to always be the best behaved has defo had an impact on him.

I believe it is up to the mother to set standards and make sacrifices if need be to put herself and her child in an environment where they are most likely to succeed. Just my opinion based on my experience.

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