Arnold Kling  

Teen Pregnancy

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Timothy Taylor's post is based on an article by Melissa S. Kearney and Phillip B. Levine in the journal Taylor helps to edit.


The cause-and-effect evidence here suggests that for many women who give birth as teenagers, their life outcomes like level of education achieved, income, employment, and chance of marriage are already so constrained that they are not made worse off by having a child as a teenager. Encouragement about contraception or abstinence can help reduce teen pregnancy on the margin. But what many teen girls from low socioeconomic status backgrounds need is a reduced prospect of marginalization, and a greater chance for personal and economic advancement.

Read the whole thing.


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CATEGORIES: Income Distribution



COMMENTS (16 to date)
B.B. writes:

Yes, those girls may feel "marginalized."

I bet most of them are the offspring of unmarried teenage mothers.

It is a social multiple equilibria situation. In the bad equilibrium, unmarried teenage girls with no education give birth to kids who end up just like them, and perpetuate the behavior. It is a stable equilibrium, sad to say. Handing out checks to those girls just enables anti-social behavior.

Why don't the girls get married and stay married? Because there are so few legible young men. Why so few? Because the boys were born to unmarried teenage girls and have no future.

The good equilibrium occurs when the teenage girls stop having out-of-wedlock babies, waiting for maturity and marriage. Then the next generation won't feel marginalized.

It is going to take some "tough love" to switch equilibria.

Hasdrubal writes:

This reminds me of the response to "If I were a poor black kid:" It can be rational to become pregnant as a teen if you're not likely to ever get out of poverty.


Now, just like any other parent the birth of that child will be the most important event in her life. And, the love of that child will be the most valuable thing she experiences. ...
So, if the girl has unprotected sex she gets right here, right now, the most important and valuable thing in life will happen immediately with PROBABILTY ONE.

stephen writes:

I am a little confused by Kearney and Levine's conclusions. First they sate:

"Taken as a whole, previous research has had considerable difficulty finding much evidence in support of the claim that teen childbearing has a causal impact on mothers and their children"

and

"There doesn't seem to be a difference in life outcomes, again suggesting that giving birth as a teenager doesn't much alter other life outcomes."

But then go on to suggest ways to address "this particular social problem".

But whats the problem if teen pregnancy does not measurably effect the mother or the child?

MG writes:

Same issue Caplan (linking Wax) addresses below. However, they (Caplan for sure, Wax probably) see it differently: Becoming a single mom is NOT economically rational, but since so many continue to pursue it anyway, an economic solution is not likely to work(other than, actually, restructure or greatly reduce the welfare state). This may suggest that a moral answer (shunning, e,g. or some other form of non-governmental societal regulation) may be a better solution. In my opinion, a far more persuasive diagnosis, and the only solution that has yet to be tried.

Brian Shelley writes:

So, if there is no statistical difference in life outcomes between teen girls who had children and those that had miscarriages, doesn't this imply that giving access to abortive service to teen girls is a total waste of time?

Brian Shelley writes:

So, if there is no statistical difference in life outcomes between teen girls who had children and those that had miscarriages, doesn't this imply that giving access to abortive service to teen girls is a total waste of time?

stephen writes:

Brian Shelley

Better yet, they also conclude that it doesn't effect the children either. Which means the whole issue is a waste of time!...well, according to this paper anyway.

Floccina writes:
The cause-and-effect evidence here suggests that for many women who give birth as teenagers, their life outcomes like level of education achieved, income, employment, and chance of marriage are already so constrained

I bet that the opposite is true. That is that middle class girls are probably much more realistic about their life prospects. Many a poor girl thinks that they can become the next great singer or actor, or the girl friend of a moneyed athlete, drug seller or gang leader or model or even lottery winner, even inventor or business person.

If you shattered their overconfidence you might get them to try a more conservative route to prosperity like saying without child and working hard and saving.

Floccina writes:

BTW my conjecture above is based on my reading of research that shows that male prisoners have higher levels of self-esteem and confidence then college students.

Becky Hargrove writes:

I had a very different circumstance when young, in that two girls my age had teen pregnancies yet ultimately did quite well for themselves. Finally I have thought of a similar factor betweeen both: mothers who had learned to fend for themselves early on, when the fathers both died young. In other words, they both had the example of their strong mothers, which every woman needs to have a good outcome, especially if the connection with their father is not especially strong.

Seth writes:

I knew girls similar to Becky.

I use to have this argument with family members. They'd use the "having a child young ruins their lives" argument. I'd say that's mistaken cause and effect. I'd say those that have "ruined lives" would likely find ways to ruin it whether they had a baby or not.

I can say that not only did the girls I know who had babies early turn out fine, but their kids are doing really well also.

Brian Shelley writes:

So, if there is no statistical difference in life outcomes between teen girls who had children and those that had miscarriages, doesn't this imply that giving access to abortive service to teen girls is a total waste of time?

Brian Shelley writes:

Sorry for the reposts, I don't know what the deal is with that.

Steve Sailer writes:

But, on average, the rest of society is better off if the kind of woman whose life wouldn't be hurt by a teen pregnancy reproduces more slowly.

Bryan Willman writes:

And there is Natural Selection...

Women or girls who have reasonably healthy babies at any age have zero risk of being childless and at least one shot at multi-generation offspring.
(The whole "probability ONE" line from the "poor black child" discussion as applied to natural selection.)

In any society less awful than, say, the hunger games or stalinist russia, the poor child of the poor child will surive at least long enough to create another poor child.

In an era when well off women write in the popular press about the difficulties of finding a suitable husband, about the pressure to have children before it's too late, and so on, who can prove that poor women having children while young are not "winners" in the genetic/natural selection contest?

Miho writes:

The key of being poor or not with having children is that they know how to manage their money or not rather than having children at young age.

My friend who had her baby at young age spends bunch of money for her child and herself more than enough although she earns low income. She doesn’t know how to manage her account because she hardly learned how to live on her budget and how to make her investment for her future before. But some teenage moms make good money by using coupons and some other saving method. And other mothers who did not have their children at their teens earn low income. Most likely they also don’t know how to use her money.

So I think being teen mom can be better off if they know how to save their money or use it properly.

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