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Monday, November 1, 2010

Teenage Pregnancy - Is Poverty to Blame?

The CDC has released its newest compiled data regarding teenage pregnancy. And, to plug my tiny little state, I'll proudly boast that NH has the lowest rates of teenagers becoming mothers, with our stats at only 19 teen moms per 1,000 teenagers.

But, no one cares about who is doing well in this regard. The focus is now on who has the highest rates. And, why, unsurprisingly, it is the southern United States.

I'm guessing you're expecting me to blame this on abstinence-only education. And while I would love to, and I think abstinence-only education is a horrible policy, I don't think it is the main cause of this trend. My guess, instead, is that this is due to the pervasive poverty in the South. Generation after generation where options are few and a sense of hopelessness regarding the future is commonplace, there are no reasons to delay pregnancy.

Education regarding sex and contraceptives is lacking, certainly, but, what would make an even bigger difference is education, period. Further education, more options, and more hope. I think that is the cure to teenage pregnancy.* But, this would mean investing more money - more government money - into education programs at all levels. And, it would not be an immediate pay-off. And, hell, it might not work at all...but, we'd be increasing the access to education for those who have fewer options and smaller incomes, and, that's never a bad thing, right?

*Well, and, perhaps, an elimination of teen dating violence and the scary norm of sexual assaults of teenage girls. But, for now, we'll assume that most of the sex teenagers are having is 'consensual' (although, that is up for debate).


  1. As I understand it, the problem with blaming the regional difference in pregnancies on abstinence only sex ed is that abstinence was taught in 49 of the 50 states. That's what I heard, but I'm not sure that's entirely likely.

    I do suspect religion plays a large role in this. And poverty too.

    I also suspect the causes of the regional difference will be debated for ages, given they have political implications.

  2. There's also the problem that the study was based upon births; it doesn't take into account abortions. So the comparative teen pregnancy rates might be utterly different than the teen birth rates.

    Poverty might also be less of a factor than agrarian vs. urban culture. Historically agrarian societies place a higher positive value on children than urban ones and that might still be affecting things.

  3. Jonolan, if you were to guess how abortions would change this data, what do you think would happen?

    Paul, I do agree with you that religion does probably play a role in this. Do you think the religion aspect plays into what Jonolan said re: abortion? (I'd guess that it is more than just that - that it has more to do with other religious pressures than just opting to not abort.)

  4. I'm really not sure beyond increasing all the numbers. Some of the low birth states are very Liberal and would likely have higher abortion : pregnancy figures, but I'm not good enough to predict what the final numbers would be.

    My best guess - and it's just that - is that, if we went by pregnancy instead of birth, we'd see some level of an evening effect.

  5. Although, if you are adding in abortions, as well, does that mean that miscarriages also should be counted? (And, if this is the case, how can you reliably include the rate of miscarriages, given that some women and girls have miscarriages without even realizing they were pregnant to begin with.)

    And, to go further than that, would it just make sense to count the number of teenagers who are having unprotected and/or risky sex, regardless of it results in a pregnancy or not? If that was the study, I could easily believe that it would mostly be even across states.

  6. Yeah, adding miscarriages would make the numbers nigh on impossible, especially when one takes into account 1st trimester miscarriages.

    But...Obviously, if we "count the number of teenagers who are having unprotected and/or risky sex, regardless of it results in a pregnancy or not" the numbers couldn't be the same. If they were, the birth rates would be closer - unless there's that many abortions in some states or those same states have pathologically high miscarriage rates(!).

  7. My guess is that religion actually does influence who gets an abortion or not.

    I say that despite that I can be pretty cautious at times about ascribing human behavior to the influence of religion. After all, how often are the very religious among us hypocrites about many of the things that their religion either encourages them to do or prohibit them from doing?

    So I would be cautious about always ascribing a religious cause to things, but in this case -- in the case of abortions -- I suspect there might be something to the notion that regional differences in abortion rates are in part caused by regional differences in religiosity.

    But here's the catch: I see religion as an influence. One influence among many. And not always in individual cases a key or crucial influence.

    What do you think?

  8. Jonolan, if we were to take into account miscarriages that were known (maybe those occurring after the first trimester), abortions, and babies carried to term, do you think it then would be fairly equal numbers across regions? Or do you think that there would still be regional disparities?

  9. Paul, I'm fairly certain that you are correct in that assumption. But, I was wondering like you about the hypocrisy, and also about that whole theory vs. practice aspect.

    In theory, someone might be against abortions, but when they actually are sixteen, facing a really difficult future if they kept the child, possibly ostracism by family/friends, might they make their own personal exception, but still believe in the general idea that it is 'wrong'?

    I'm not sure how many cases are like that out there, but my hunch is that there are a number of them.

    And I certainly agree with you that what makes the most sense is that it is one influence among many: religion, socioeconomic status, culture, education, they all certainly influence someone's decisions about everything that they do in life.

  10. Astasia, the only study I've seen on what percentage of very religious people get abortions was a study I came across years ago and can no longer recall in any detail.

    I do confess, I have the book the authors of the study wrote about it, but that damn book is 700 pages of small print and footnotes, and I would go blind searching through it for just one particular fact. Besides, the survey is more than 10 years old by now.

    But here's what I recall: There is a subset of Americans who are very religious, concentrated in the South, and who in general match very religious folk in their attitudes, behaviors and opinions, except for one thing and only one thing: They are liberals when it comes to abortions.

    Now I can no longer recall what percentage of the population those folks are, but I do recall that the authors of the survey speculated the reason those folks are conservatives on most everything but abortion rights is because they had abortions themselves -- or at least their wives, relatives, or friends had abortions.

    That's just about all I recall about that survey that had anything to do with the group of conservative religious folks who supported abortion rights.

  11. That is interesting - and it goes to show that almost everything one can think of should be/could be surveyed, already has been. :)

    I'd be interested in asking those conservatives themselves if they are actually liberal regarding abortions because of personal experience or if it is purely ideological.

  12. There's actually a funny/sad story behind that survey. The survey was conducted some years ago with Federal money and it was and probably still is the largest survey on sexual practices in the US ever conducted. It was also suppose to be just a start for yet another, much larger survey on the same subject. And between the two of them, these surveys were to fill in all the gaps in knowledge on sex in the United States.

    The trouble is, when the first survey came back, the results pissed off some Southern Senator, who promptly killed funding for the second, larger survey.