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Tuesday, 14 August 2012


In the Olympics of Teen Pregnancy, The U.S. 'Wins' While Young Women Lose.

It is known that an association with becoming a teen mother is having had a teen mother. It is also known that economic options for young women are limited by becoming a teen mom. But is the cause role modeling (‘do as I did’) or are there other factors in play? Do we have it backward that teen motherhood results in economic limitations?

In contrast to all other developed countries (Canada, Norway, Switzerland, Russia or Germany) teens are more likely to become pregnant. U.S. teens are 2.5 more likely to become pregnant than Canadians; 4 times more likely than Germans and 10 times more likely than Swiss teens. Even compared to Russian teens (who are second to the U.S), U.S. teens are 25% more likely to become pregnant.

 A 2012 study by two economists -  Melissa S. Kearney, PhD, Associate Professor at the University of Maryland and Phillip Levine, PhD Professor at Wellesley College evaluated the linkage between income inequality and teenage childbirth rates.
Their conclusion is that the most influential factor in teen pregnancy is poverty – if young girls believe, and perhaps accurately so, that their life’s trajectory is limited or that they don’t have one, then becoming a teen mother miring them in poverty is merely hastening what is only going to happen anyway.
Certainly, education, literacy, unemployment are all elements that influence the situation (as does role modeling) but are teen pregnancy rates merely a proxy measure of the wealth gap in the U.S.?

What do you think?
On the left is the map of poverty in the U.S 2006-2010; on the right is the map distribution of teen birth rates in 2010.
A teen in Mississippi is four times as likely to become a pregnant teen as a youth from New Hampshire. Kearney and Phillip describe zones of economic despair with evidence of outcomes as seen by teen birth rates.

NOTES: Data for 2010 are preliminary. Access data table for Figure 6 [PDF -175 KB].
SOURCE: CDC/NCHS, National Vital Statistics System.

There is a lot of optimism that the rate of teens birth is on the decline, see the CDC data brief here, however clearly we have a lot of more to do in this area. Some $10.9 billion dollars is spent annually on teen childbearing. Maybe we need to consider the timing of these resources and not be exclusively reactive?

Here’s a link to their March 2012 paper 
Here's a link to their previous work


Kearney, Phillips. NBER Working Paper No. 17965. March 2012. JEL No. I28,J13


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