Although the rate of teenage pregnancy in the United States has declined greatly
within the past few years, it is still an enormous problem that needs to be addressed.
These rates are still higher in the 1990’s than they were only a decade ago. The United
State’s teenage birthrate exceeds that of most other industrialized nations, even though
American teenagers are no more sexually active than teenagers are in Canada or Europe.
Recent statistics concerning the teen birthrates are alarming.
teenage girls give birth each year. Almost one-sixth of all births in the United States are to
teenage women are to teenage women. Eight in ten of these births resulted from
unintended pregnancies. (Gormly 347) By the age of eighteen, one out of four teenage
girls will have become pregnant. (Newman 679)
Although the onset of pregnancy may occur in any teenager, some teens are at
higher risk for unplanned pregnancy than others. Teenagers who become sexually active
at an earlier age are at a greater risk primarily because young teenagers are less likely to
use birthcontrol. African-American and Hispanic teenagers are twice as likely to give birth
as are white teenagers. Whites are more likely to have abortions. Teenagers who come
from poor neighborhoods and attend segregated schools are at a high risk for pregnancy.
Also, teenagers who are doing poorly in school and have few plans for the future are more
likely to become parents than those who are doing well and have high educationsl and
occupational expectations. Although the rate of teenage pregnancy is higher among low-
income African-Americans and Hispanics, especially those in inner city ghettoes, the
number of births to teenagers is highest among white, nonpoor young women who live in
small cities and towns. (Calhoun 309)
In addition to the question of which teenagers become pregnant, interest is shown
in the social consequences of early parenthood. Adolescent parents (mostly mothers) may
find that they have a “lost or limited opportunity for education.” (Johnson 4) The
higher a woman’s level of education, the more likely she is to postpone marriage and
childbearing. Adolescents with little schooling are often twice as likely as those with more
education to have a baby bafore their twentieth birthday. Some 58% of young women in
the United States who receive less than a high school education give birth by the time they
are twenty years old, compared with 13% of young women who complete at least twelve
years of schooling. (Tunick 11) Teens who become pregnant during high school are
more likely to drop out. (Calhoun 310) A teen mother leaves school because she cannot
manage the task of caring for a baby and studying, and a teen father usually chooses a job
over school so that he can pay bills and provide for his child. (Johnson 4) Teen mothers
usually have fewer resources than older mothers because they have had less time to gather
savings or build up their “productivity” through work experience, education, or training.
(Planned Parenthood 1) Because of this, teen mothers are generally poor and are
dependent on government support. (Newman 679) The welfare system is usually the
only support a teen parent will receive. Welfare benefits are higher for families with
absent fathers or dependent children. (Calhoun 309) In some cases, teen mothers may
also receive help like Medicaid, Food Stamps, and “Aid to Families with Dependent
Besides educational and financial problems, teenage mothers may face a great deal
of emotional strain and may become very stressed. Teen mothers may have limited social
contacts and friendships because they do not have time for anything other than their baby.
Lack of a social life and time for herself may cause the teenage mother to become
depressed or have severe mental anxiety. (Johnson 5) Depression may become worse for
a teenage mother because she usually does not know much about child development or
about how to care for their children. Children who are born to teenage mothers usually
suffer from poor parenting. (Berk 188) Also, children of teenage parents start being
sexually active before their peers and they are more likely to become teenage parents
themselves. These children may also suffer from financial difficulties similar to that of
their parents. “Children whose mothers are age seventeen or younger are three times as
likely as their peers to be poor, and are likely to stay poor for a longer period of time.”
(Calhoun 311) The children born to teenage mothers sometimes score lower on
development tests than the children of older mothers. It seems that “rather than declining
over time, educational deficits increase in severity and the children show lower academic
achievement, higher drop out rates, and are more likely to be held back in school.”
Teenage pregnancy comes with not only a child, but also many consequences.
Teen mothers face greater health risks than older mothers, such as anemia, pregnancy
induced hypertension, toxemia, premature delivery, cervical trauma, and even death.
Many of these health risks are due to inadequate prenatal care and support, rather than
physical immaturity. The teenage mother is more likely to be undernourished and suffer
premature and prolonged labor. (Calhoun 311) The death rate from pregnancy
complications are much higher among girls who give birth under age fifteen. (Gormly
347) Poor eating habits, smoking, alcohol and drugs increase the risk of having a baby
with health problems. (Johnson 3) The younger the teenage mother is, the higher the
chances are that she and her baby will have health problems. This is mainly due to late
prenatal care (if any) and poor nutrition. (Planned Parenthood 1) An adolescent mother
and her baby may not get enough nutrients and, because the mother’s body is not fully
mature, she may have many complications throughout the duration of the pregnancy.
Along with the mother, the children of teenage parents too often become part of a
cycle of poor health, school failure, and poverty. Infants born to teenage mothers are at a
high risk of prematurity, fragile health, the need for intensive care, cerebral palsy, epilepsy,
and mental retardation. (Johnson 5) Low birth weight is the most immediate health
problem. Babies born to teenagers are often born too small, too soon. Low birthweight
babies may have immature organ systems (brain, lungs, and heart), difficulty controlling
body temperature and blood sugar levels, and a risk of dying in early infancy that is much
higher than that of normal weight babies (five and one-half pounds or more). (Calhoun
310) “The death rate for babies whose mothers are under fifteen years of age is double
that of babies whose mothers are twenty to thirty years old.” (Johnson 5)
Because of these extremely serious problems, many government, as well as local,
organizations are fighting to stop the occurence of teenage pregnancy by helping to
educate children of the risks involved and the consequences after. Some research
indicates that “the percentage of teenage birthrates has declined simply because fewer
teenagers are having sexual intercourse and more adolescents are using contraceptives.”
Researchers say that the recent trends in sexual activity and contraceptive use are the
result of a number of factors, including greater emphasis on abstinence, more conservative
attitudes about sex, fear of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, the popularity of
long-lasting birthcontrol methods such as the contraceptive implant (Norplant) and the
injectable (Depo-Provera), and even because of the economy. In addition, researchers say
that young people have become somewhat more conservative in their views about casual
sex and out-of-wedlock childbearing. Some attribute this change in attitude mainly to
concern about sexually transmitted diseases. Others say that it is because of the
involvement of conservative religious groups in the public debate over sexual behavior.
Many researchers believe that the strong economy and the increasing availability of jobs at
minimum wage have contributed to fewer births among teenagers. (Donovan 32)
Americans, however, seem to be against some of the methods used by these various
organizations to reduce the teen pregnancy rates. “The most controversial aspect of
adolescent pregnancy prevention is the growing movement to provide teenagers with easy
access to contraceptives.” Most Americans believe that giving teenagers birthcontrol pills
and/or condoms is the same as telling them that early sex is allowed. Some studies that
were conducted in Europe show that some clinics in Europe that distribute contraceptives
to teenagers have the same sexual activity rate as in the United States. However, in these
European studies, it is apparent that teen pregnancy, childbirth, and abortion rates are
Teenage pregnancy does cause many problems for the mother, child, and economy.
There are, however, some incidences where the mother overcomes this down-hill trend
and makes a successful life for her and her child. The outcome of teenage pregnancy turns
out better if the mother goes back to school after she has given birth. (Berk 190) Staying
in school may help to prevent teenage mothers from having a second pregnancy. (Planned
Parenthood 2) The outcome is also better if the mother continues to live with her
parents so that they can help to raise the child. Young, teen mothers need health care for
themselves as well as their children. An adolescent mother also needs a great deal of
encouragement to get her to remain in school. Single teenage mothers also need job
training so that they can get a good job to support themselves and their children. Teen
mothers need to be taught parenting and life-management skills and also need high quality
and affordable daycare for their children. Schools that provide daycare centers on campus
reduce the incidence of teenagers dropping out of school. These school programs also
decrease the likelihood that the teen mother will have more children. (Berk 189)
Because the government has begun to take action in preventing teen pregnancies,
the rate has continued to decline. The large numbers of young people in America–as well
as the values, health, education, skills they gain–will greatly affect the future of society.
Therefore, increased attention should be given to the well-being of adolescents. Since
greater care is being given to the young people, improvements are already occuring. The
level of education that young people receive is much higher than that of their parents, and
the “expectation that young people should obtain at least some secondary schooling” is
growing. The numbers of women who have a child during their teen years is declining,
and recognizing the impact of childbearing on education, parents and communities are
continuing to discourage sexual activity, marriage, and motherhood at a young age.
(Tunick 13) These recent trends, if continued, will more than likely educate the
adolescent population about the risks and consequences of teenage pregnancy and reduce
the incicence of teen pregnancy and childbirth altogether.
Berk, Laura E. Child Development. 4th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1997.
Calhoun, C. et al. Sociology. New York: Glencoe-McGraw-Hill, 1995.
Donovan, Patricia. “Falling Teen Pregnancy, Birthrates: What’s Behind the Declines?”
The Guttmacher Report. 1.5 (Oct. 1998); 31-34.
Gormly, Anne V. Lifespan Human Development. 6th ed. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace,
Johnson, Sherry. Teen Pregnancy: Too Much, Too Soon. Waco, TX: Health Edco.,
Newman, Philip R. and Barbara M. Newman. Childhood and Adolescence. Pacific
Grove: Brooks/Cole Publishing Co., 1997.
Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “Pregnancy and Childbearing Among U.S.
Teens.” Online. Internet. 29 Mar. 1999. Available
Tunick, Barbara. “Issues in Brief: Risks and Realities of Early Childbearing Worldwide.”
The Guttmacher Report. (Feb. 1997); 10-14.
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