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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doodl... doodlebut

My family was very wealthy and I was going to go to nyu, but I got pregnant at 17. We're still married with 4 kids and live very comfortable at the age of 32 now.

Mary Renner

Teenagers become pregant not because or lack of MONEY but due to unsafe SEX practices. DUH! This is one of the dumbest articles I've read about teen pregnancy. Yes, I was a teen mom but chose adoption.

nonmember avatar Gretta

My roommate in college got pregnant at 18.

Desir... Desireesmom2011

Oh and mary when I got pregnant I was on the pill and we used a condom. its not always because of "unsafe sex practices"  Sometimes it just happens

Pinst... Pinstripes4

Anecdotal evidence doesn't dismiss what the article is trying to say. The fact of the matter is that teen pregnancy rates are significantly higher in lower income neighborhoods. There are exceptions, but consider what the linked article says:

"Kearney and Levine used data on miscarriages to isolate the impact of giving birth from background characteristics that may contribute to a decision to give birth. When used this way as a statistical control, the negative consequences of teen childbirth appear to be small and short-lived. Young women who gave birth and young women who miscarried have similarly bleak economic outcomes."

This isn't a huge breakthrough necessarily, but don't you think it is definitely worth examining?

Water... Water_geM

i came from an upper middle class family and i had my first at 18....but i didnt have anyone to comfortsbly talk about sex with....it was dont you dare do it thing.

Water... Water_geM

mary renner income has alot to do with it..oiften people with lower incomes arent educated and highly religious...and that guides things like how they aproach kids about sex...

rlk12... rlk121909

i call bull. i was about to turn 18 when i got pregnant the first time. i already had gotten my ged almost a year before that so wasn't because of the baby at all and my husband went to nursing school while i was pregnant and for the first 5 months of her life. we have 2 babies now and life comfortable. im gonna be 20 in July and hell be 22 in august. also hes starting rn school in august and will be done in 2 years and then we plan on having another baby. getting pregnant wont stop you from achieving your dreams. it might make it harder but it will also make it even more worth it

nonmember avatar jadena

I guess I am an exception also. Pregnant at 15 but I now have a very successful career & I am almost finished with College. Teen pregnancy only limits you if you choose to let it.

Miche... Michelephant

Your personal experiences have little to do with the statistical research. Girls in poor communities have limited access to birth control and sex education. Their parents (mostly single parents) don't have time to supervise their kids and teach them about preventing pregnancy because they are out of the home trying to put food on the table. Uneducated kids with limited access to birth control, no supervision and lots of free time equals sexually active girls who get pregnant.

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