Education, Pregnancy, Inequality

As the overall rate of teenage pregnancy declines, the relationship between teenage pregnancy and inequality may be positively influenced by learning, progress, and education. Previous research has suggested that teenage pregnancy correlates with poverty, meaning that the more a teen suffers from poverty, the more likely they are to choose pregnancy. That correlation may be changing, as teens from lower inequality are starting to choose to delay pregnancies until they get older.

Economic Inequality in States

In 2012 research on teenage pregnancy (New York Times, 2012), inequality was revealed to be so powerful that it makes teens think that pregnancy is more viable than their own success:

“The new (2012) paper looks at inequality across states and finds a very similar correlation between the rate of teenage births and income inequality. For example, a teenage girl in Mississippi is four times more likely to give birth than a teenage girl in New Hampshire. The researchers conclude that teenagers in the highest-inequality states are roughly five percentage points more likely to give birth as teenagers than teenagers in the lowest-inequality states.

Inequality, the authors suggest, makes the poorest citizens believe that they have little chance of economic mobility. They are giving birth “at a young age instead of investing in their own economic progress because they feel they have little chance of advancement,” the authors write.” (New York Times, 2012)

Economic mobility has to be one of the most hoped for outcomes in the US. Teenage pregnancy was thought to be directly related to this cultural condition.


However, teenage pregnancy has been going down even in poverty stricken areas. The rate of teenage pregnancy has been dropping over the past 30 years, (Teen births have fallen by 77 percent since 1991, and among young teens the decline is even greater, 85 percent, according to an analysis by Child Trends,).

In a New York Times update to this research are two examples of two mothers who recently shared their ideas about this: “While their experiences diverge, Ms. Marsaw and Ms. Alvarez share a telling trait. Stung by the struggles of their teenage mothers, both made unusually self-conscious vows not to become teen mothers themselves. And both say that delaying motherhood gave them — and now their children — a greater chance of success.” (New York Times, 2022)

Women Power?

So these two mothers were able to give voice to a growing sense of possibility for why they delayed their pregnancies: “But with progress so broad and sustained, many researchers argue the change reflects something more fundamental: a growing sense of possibility among disadvantaged young women, whose earnings and education have grown faster than their male counterparts” (New York Times, 2022). That sense of possibility that their lives will work out better if they can delay their pregnancy, stay in education, and learn what they need to learn to be successful.

“They’re going to school and seeing new career paths open,” said Melissa S. Kearney, an economist at the University of Maryland. “Whether they are excited about their own opportunities or feel that unreliable male partners leave them no choice, it leads them in the same direction — not becoming a young mother.” (New York Times, 2022)

Further research is needed to understand the role of gender in these two mother’s decisions, but the understanding of new possibilities that they control is very compelling.

Educational Possibilities

Make no mistake about the limiting force of intergenerational poverty. It defines how people think and limits their choices. But there is something really interesting in this research that can change the course of the lives of disadvantaged young women. While understanding the limits of their intergenerational poverty on their outlook, education, the idea of learning about how non-traditional choices may help them achieve a greater level of success, is a very hopeful strategy. In fact education is often saddled with the idea that it is the “solution to everything,” but the reality is that it has helped so many people to figure out how to improve their economic inequality. If young disadvantaged women can open their minds up to learning about delaying pregnancy, and other valuable strategies, their lives might be enhanced and even more successful!

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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