Primary Sources: Do Socioeconomic Factors Contribute to Teen Pregnancy?

Pregnant teen.

“Socioeconomic Disadvantage as a Social Determinant of Teen Childbearing in the U.S.” Ana Penman-Aguilar, Marion Carter, M. Christine Snead, and Athena P. Kourtis. Public Health Reports, Vol. 128, Supplement 1 (March-April 2013).

What it’s about: Ana Penman-Aguilar, Marion Carter, M. Christine Snead, and Athena P. Kourtis of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wanted to investigate the research that has been done on socioeconomic influences on teen childbearing. They searched electronic databases for articles published from January 1995 to November 2011. “Socioeconomic factors” included the teen or her parents’ educational attainment, the financial and material resources of the teen’s community, and family members' income, wealth, and occupations.

In the end, the authors included 12 peer-reviewed, quantitative research articles in their study. They analyzed the studies, ranked them for quality using the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force guidelines, assessed for bias, and synthesized the findings.

Why read it: A better understanding of the root causes of teen childbearing could help social service providers design programs that prevent teen pregnancy and improve adolescent sexual health.

Biggest takeaways for family and youth workers: The authors found that families’ socioeconomic factors at various levels influenced whether or not young women gave birth as teens.

At the individual level: One study found that teen girls were more likely to become teen moms when they had low socioeconomic status combined with individual characteristics such as being more aggressive.

Another study, which used data from 8,223 teen women enrolled in the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988, a nationally representative cohort study of students who were in eighth grade in 1988, found differences among teens of different races. White and Hispanic teens who had dropped out were more likely to give birth. That association didn’t hold true for African American teens.

In the context of the family: Looking at the context of the teens’ parents, another study found that Hispanic and white teens whose parents had lower education levels were more likely to have given birth. On the other hand, another study finds, the more education parents had, the less likely teens were to have sex, get pregnant, and give birth.  

Hispanic teens whose families had higher socioeconomic status were less likely to give birth. But African American teens whose families had higher socioeconomic status were more likely to give birth—unless they went to private school.

At the community level: Studies that looked at community-level socioeconomic influences found that lower per capita income, higher income inequality, and higher numbers of people living below the poverty level contributed to higher teen birth rates.

One study suggested that for metropolitan African American teens, living in segregated neighborhoods may influence teen birth rates more than poverty.

White teens, but not African American or Hispanic teens, who went to a school with more resources were less likely to give birth.

The authors write:

The findings of this review suggest that unfavorable socioeconomic conditions experienced at the community and family levels affect teens' sexual health behaviors and, in turn, contribute to the high number of teen births in the U.S. One theory is that, unlike their more advantaged counterparts, disadvantaged young women may not perceive early childbearing as an obstacle to a bright future; indeed, they may perceive it as one of few viable paths to adulthood. It is worth noting that the findings of some studies have challenged this theory, including one study in our review.

They recommend further research into socioeconomic influences on teen birth, particularly studies that look at factors at more than one level—individual, peer, family, community, school, policy—and among teens of specific races and ethnicities.

Additional references: Look for more articles about teen pregnancy and parenthood in NCFY’s research library.

A recent NCFY slideshow looks at why teen pregnancy has become a bigger problem in rural areas than in cities and suburbs.

Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children and Families.

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