Teen Pregnancy and Inequality

Poverty

Teen pregnancy and child poverty are deeply intertwined. Data from all US counties reveals a 73% correlation between teen pregnancy rates and child poverty rates. 67% of teenage mothers who don’t live with their parents live in poverty.

Education

Only 40% of teenage mothers will graduate high school (compared to 90% who don’t become mothers), and fewer than 2% will graduate college by the age of 30. On top of this, children of teenage mothers are also much less likely to acquire basic literacy skills needed to perform well in schools.

Race

The connections between race and teenage pregnancy are complex. Unfortunately in America, Black and Latinx communities tend to have lower incomes, meaning they often have fewer health resources. We systematically fail these communities, which tends to drive up teenage pregnancy rates when access to contraception, abortions, or commonsense sex education is out of reach.

Intergenerational challenges

The child of a teen mother is also more likely to become a teen mother herself. While teen pregnancy is not genetic, it can be hereditary. As The Atlantic explains, “The child of a teen mom is bound to inherit the circumstances — poverty, familial instability — that potentially contributed to the pregnancy in the first place… By the time the children of teen moms start school, many are already at a disadvantage relative to their peers.”

The Role of Society

Most religions have something to say about birth and childbearing. States where half of residents say that religion plays an “important part” in their life are also the places where the teenage birth rates are highest — a rate of 25 teenage moms per 1,000 teenage women. This relationship becomes particularly acute when we layer in poverty rates for those mothers. Religious regions thus tend to have higher teenage pregnancy rates.

The Path Forward

One of my favorite quotes from Tim Geithner, former Treasury Secretary, is this: “Condoms don’t cause sex.”

No One Size Fits All

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Jeremy Ney

Jeremy Ney

Google, MIT, Harvard, UPenn, Federal Reserve, now writing about inequality at AmericanInequality.substack.com