Childhood Studies Teenage Pregnancy
by
Andrew L. Cherry, Mary E. Dillon
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 November 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 October 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0111

Introduction

Since the 1950s, teenage pregnancy has attracted a great deal of concern and attention from religious leaders, the general public, policymakers, and social scientists, particularly in the United States and other developed countries. The continuing apprehension about teenage pregnancy is based on the profound impact that teenage pregnancy can have on the lives of the girls and their children. Demographic studies continue to report that in developed countries such as the United States, teenage pregnancy results in lower educational attainment, increased rates of poverty, and worse “life outcomes” for children of teenage mothers compared to children of young adult women. Teenage pregnancy is defined as occurring between thirteen and nineteen years of age. There are, however, girls as young as ten who are sexually active and occasionally become pregnant and give birth. The vast majority of teenage births in the United States occurs among girls between fifteen and nineteen years of age. When being inclusive of all girls who can become pregnant and give birth, the term used is adolescent pregnancy, which describes the emotional and biological developmental stage called adolescence. The concern over the age at which a young woman should give birth has existed throughout human history. In general, however, there are two divergent views used to explain teenage pregnancy. Some authors and researchers argue that labeling teen pregnancy as a public health problem has little to do with public health and more to do with it being socially, culturally, and economically unacceptable. The bibliographic citations selected for this article will be extensive. The objective is to cover the major issues related to teenage pregnancy and childbearing, and adolescent pregnancy and childbearing. Childbirth to teenage mothers in the United States peaked in the mid-1950s at approximately 100 births per 1,000 teenage girls. In 2010, the rate of live births to teenage mothers in the United States dropped to a low of 34 births per 1,000. This was the lowest rate of teenage births in the United States since 1946. In 2012, the live births to teenage mothers continued to decline to 29.4 per 1,000. This was a drop of 13.5 percent from 2010. In 2012, some 305,388 babies were born to girls between fifteen and nineteen years of age. Among girls fourteen and younger the rate of pregnancy is about 7 per 1,000. About half of these pregnancies (3 per 1,000) resulted in live births. In spite of this decline in teenage pregnancy over the years, approximately 820,000 (34 percent) of teenage girls in the United States become pregnant each year. What’s more, some 85 percent of these pregnancies are unintended. These pregnancies and births suggest that the story of teenage pregnancy is not in the numbers of teen pregnancies and births but in the story of what causes the increase and decrease in the numbers. With the objective in mind to better understand teenage pregnancy, a general overview is provided as a broad background on teenage pregnancy. Citations are grouped under related topics that explicate the complexity of critical forces affecting teenage pregnancy. Topics that provide a global view of the variations in perception of and response to teenage pregnancy will also be covered in this article.

General Overviews

Adolescent pregnancy is a complex issue with many reasons for concern. Teenage pregnancy is a natural human occurrence that is a poor fit with modern society. In many ways it has become a proxy in what could be called the cultural wars. On one philosophical side of the debate, political and religious leaders use cultural and moral norms to shape public opinion and promote public policy with the stated purpose of preventing teen pregnancy. To begin, Martin, et al. 2012 provides national vital statistics on teen pregnancy. Leishman and Moir 2007 provides a good overview of these broader issues. Demographic studies by organizations like the Alan Guttmacher Institute (Alan Guttmacher Institute 2010) give a statistical description of teenage pregnancy in the United States. The number of teen pregnancies and the pregnancy outcomes are often used to support claims that teenage pregnancy is a serious social problem. The other side of this debate presented in publications by groups like the World Health Organization (World Health Organization 2004) reflects the medical professionals, public health professionals, and academicians who make a case for viewing teenage sexuality and pregnancy in terms of human development, health, and psychological needs. These two divergent views of teen pregnancy are represented in the United States by groups such as Children’s Aid Society; Healthy Teen Network; Center for Population Options; Advocates for Youth; National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy; National Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Parenting, and Prevention; state-level adolescent pregnancy prevention organizations; and other organizations that include teen pregnancy within their scope of interest and services. Mollborn, et al. 2011 delineates other important aspects of teenage pregnancy (race, poverty, and religious influences) that help explain why teenage pregnancy is considered a problem in some circles. The association between teenage pregnancy and social disadvantage, however, is not just found in the United States. Harden, et al. 2009 reports on the impact of poverty on teenage pregnancy rates in the United Kingdom. This phenomenon is not isolated to the United States and Great Britain; it is global. Holgate, et al. 2006 and the authors of Cherry and Dillon 2014 provide a comprehensive overview of global teenage pregnancy. To round out this general overview, the article Jiang, et al. 2011 is a description of a pragmatic national effort to improve the sexual and reproductive health of all adolescents and young adults. The best sources for research are professional journals and monographs from national and international health and development organizations focused on specific countries, regions, and global teenage pregnancy variations and trends.

  • Alan Guttmacher Institute. U.S. Teenage Pregnancies, Births and Abortions: National and State Trends and Trends by Race and Ethnicity. New York: Alan Guttmacher Institute, 2010.

    E-mail Citation »

    This report describes trends in teenage pregnancy, childbearing, and abortion in the United States. The statistics reveal discernible variations in teen birth and abortions between states. There is also a wide variation in teen pregnancy between racial and ethnic groups. Since the slight increase in 2006 rates have continued to decline.

  • Cherry, Andrew L. “Biological Determinants and Influences Affecting Adolescent Pregnancy.” In International Handbook of Adolescent Pregnancy: Medical, Psychosocial, and Public Health Responses. By Andrew Cherry and Mary Dillon, 39–53. New York: Springer Science & Business Media, 2014.

    E-mail Citation »

    This chapter highlights the biological determinants that influence adolescent sexuality and pregnancy. While our genes influence individual sexual development and behavior, the question is how much. Integrated biopsychosocial models are more accurate and give a richer picture of the determinants of adolescent sexuality.

  • Cherry, Andrew, and Mary Dillon. International Handbook of Adolescent Pregnancy: Medical, Psychosocial, and Public Health Responses. New York: Springer Science & Business Media, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4899-8026-7E-mail Citation »

    In this edited volume, eight chapters deal with issues related to adolescent pregnancy, such as mental health; biological determinants; fatherhood; pregnancy among lesbian, gay, and bisexual teens; etc. Additionally, thirty-one chapters cover major variations in the way adolescent pregnancy is viewed from different countries around the world.

  • Harden, Angela, Ginny Brunton, Adam Fletcher, and Ann Oakley. “Teenage Pregnancy and Social Disadvantage: Systematic Review Integrating Controlled Trials and Qualitative Studies.” British Medical Journal 339 (2009): 1182–1185.

    DOI: 10.1136/bmj.b4254E-mail Citation »

    This is a review of interventions addressing social disadvantages associated with adolescent pregnancy in the United Kingdom. Teenage pregnancy rates were 39 percent lower among teenagers receiving both early childhood intervention and youth development programs that address “dislike of school,” “poor material circumstances and unhappy childhood,” and “low expectations for the future.”

  • Holgate, Helen S., Roy Evans, and Francis K. O. Yuen. Teenage Pregnancy and Parenthood: Global Perspectives, Issues and Interventions. New York: Routledge, 2006.

    E-mail Citation »

    Teenage pregnancy and parenting, especially at a young age, is typically viewed as personally and socially undesirable. Governments worldwide demonstrate concern about teenage pregnancy in their policies and programs. This book provides a broad range of international perspectives and cultural contexts, and looks at interventions and examples of best practices.

  • Jiang, Nan, Lloyd J. Kolbe, Dong-Chul Seo, Noy S. Kay, and Claire D. Brindis. “Health of Adolescents and Young Adults: Trends in Achieving the 21 Critical National Health Objectives by 2010.” Journal of Adolescent Health 49 (2011): 124–132.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2011.04.026E-mail Citation »

    This is a report on the 21 Critical National Health Objectives for Adolescents and Young Adults in the United States as described in Healthy People 2010. Two of the twenty-one goals were reached, reduction in adolescents riding with a drunk driver, and reduced physical fighting. Progress varied by demographic variables.

  • Leishman, June, and James Moir. Pre-Teen and Teenage Pregnancy: A Twenty-First Century Reality. Keswick, UK: M&K Update, 2007.

    E-mail Citation »

    This book is a good place to start. It provides a standard definition of adolescents. The premise is that the physical and emotional health of teenagers has always been a complex issue and continues to challenge modern societies. It offers insight into the social reality of sexually active adolescents.

  • Martin, J. A., B. E. Hamilton, S. J. Ventura, M. J. Osterman, E. C. Wilson, and T. J. Mathews. “National vital statistics reports.” National Vital Statistics Reports 61.1 (2012).

    E-mail Citation »

    This brief report shows the latest available statistical on teenage pregnancy in the United States. The report shows that teenage pregnancy continued to fall for all groups. Nevertheless the disparity between the rate of live births is two times higher among non-Hispanic African American and Hispanic girls compared to non-Hispanic white girls.

  • Mollborn, Stefanie, Benjamin W. Domingue, and Jason D. Boardman. Racial, Socioeconomic, and Religious Influences on School-Level Teen Pregnancy Norms and Behaviors. Boulder: Institute of Behavioral Science, University of Colorado, 2011.

    E-mail Citation »

    This report provides a broad overview of the influence and role of schools on teenage pregnancy. The impact of the school’s social, economic, and racial composition on teenage pregnancy rates among students is examined. Focusing on “age norms,” the authors answer the question, How do norms explain school pregnancy rates?

  • World Health Organization. Adolescent Pregnancy: Issues in Adolescent Health and Development. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization, 2004.

    E-mail Citation »

    This overview of global adolescent health, development, and pregnancy covers both developed and developing countries. Social indicators and statistics show the increase in teen pregnancy after World War II and the surprising decline in the 1990s. This occurred as social control by parents and family declined.

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