Teenage Childbearing as a Public Issue and Private Concern Long Post #2

Furstenberg, Frank F. Jr. 2003. “Teenage Childbearing as a Public Issue and Private Concern.” Annual Review of Sociology. Vol.29,pp.23-39.

Stephanie Graham

“Teenage Childbearing as a Public Issue and Private Concern” by Frank F. Furstenberg, Jr.


* In U.S. the issue has more to do with how our political culture has responded to ancillary problems than with the threat posed by teenage childbearing.

A. The Dawning of a Public Issue

  • After World War II parenthood was common in the teenage years.
  • 1957 Birthrate among teens stood at 96.3 per 100 women. Nearly 10 % of teens were giving birth each year.
  • Virtually no discussion of adolescent childbearing occurred in either popular or professional literature.
  • During the 60s fertility rates among older women were declining much more rapidly than were rate among women under age 20, which increased the proportions of births born to teens.
  • Larger number of pregnant women began to elect not to marry.
  • With decline of earning power of young black men, marriage became a distinctly less attractive option for young black women who became pregnant out of wedlock.
  • As marriage rates declined, non marital childbearing’s rates climbed rapidly among black teens.
  • During the 60s, children born to non-white teens were nearly six times as likely to be born out of wedlock than were the children of white teens.
  • The enormous disparities could be explained due to income, education and occupation.
  • In 2000 the ratio of black to white births have dropped three

B.  The Beginnings of the Baltimore Study

  • Study began as an evaluation of a hospital based intervention program designed to prevent second births among a population of low-income, mostly black women became pregnant for the first time before age of 18.
  • Women were interviewed during pregnancy and years after giving birth.

C. The Issue of Teenage Childbearing Comes of Age

  • Teen mothers suffer from poor education, weak attachment to the labor force, low earnings and reliance on public assistance, marital instability and single parenthood, additional births and large family size, and poor health outcomes during and after pregnancy.
  • Majority of youth were more likely to come from disadvantaged households, have experienced trouble in school, and have lower expectations of going to college than their peers.
  • Father of the child has poor education and earnings prospects.
  • During the 70s and 80s more research was done on early childbearing appeared, supported that young parents and their children were not faring well.
  • A aggressive campaign to reduce teen pregnancy and childbearing  started in the 80s.
  • Declining abortion rates partially fueled the continued rise of white nonmaritial fertility rates.

D. “Adolescent Mothers in Later Life: The Baltimore Study Continues

  • Vast majority of women had incomes above the poverty line and fewer than a fifth were still on public assistance.
  • 3 out of 4 had entered the labor force and were regularly employed.  Half of all the women in the study held jobs with benefits
  • A high percentage had returned to high school and graduated or received a GED; one fifth had even taken some college courses over the past decade.
  • Relatively few of the women had been able to enter enduring marriages. Only a quarter of the women who married the father of their child were still married to him.
  • “Children of the study”

A. Majority of the children were on track of completing high school and avoiding early                 parenthood.

  1.                 B.  Interviewed in their 20s .Nearly 80% of the women and 60% of the men completed                 high school.

C. Significantly minority of the men was in jail, had dropped out of high school, or was                 out of work.

  • In a follow-up interview , by their mid-40s many of the women had substantially furthered their education. Three quarters were working, most in jobs with benefits  and a minority had entered a marriage or relationship that appeared to be viable.
  • Majority of the children were successfully functioning as adults.
  • Many of the women were holding out for a match that would be more successful than their parents had achieved.
  • Marital stability for African Americans is only modestly improved by waiting until their 20s to have a child.


E. Reconsidering Teenage Parenthood as a Public Policy Issue

  • The drop the teenage childbearing over the past decade has been especially pronounced among African Americans.
  • President Clinton referred to teen parenthood as the nations most urgent problem.

F. Why Teenage Birth Rates Have Fallen

  • No one knows why the rate among African -Americans teens has dropped.
  • Few who become pregnant in their teens elect to marry, whether they are Black or White, rich or poor.
  • Some argue that high teenage birth rates may be traced to the fact that we also have the highest level of income inequality.
  • More children in the United States than any other Western nation grow up in poverty.
  • Younger women and men are gradually becoming more adept at managing the risk of pregnancy, Abortion has become an increasingly less attractive or available option for teens.

G. Why Teenage Childbearing Remains a Social Problem

  • Problem of early childbearing is defined socially, therefore political and public perceptions of teen childbearing have not kept pace.
  • American teens are still highest among nations with advanced economies.
  • Americans continue to embrace the ideal of premarital sexual chastity.
  • Programs in schools are aimed at promoting sexual abstinence.
  • There is a refusal to deal openly with reality that teens will have sex.
  • Most research has focused on public policy rather than the cultural sources of policies adopted by nations.
  • Little observational work exists on how peer cultures treat sexuality, sexual transitions, sexual relations, contraception and abortion.

Concluding Comments

  • Part of the problem is fashioning sociological stereotypes that are picked up and reified by others.
  • Concerns created by teenage childbearing have been misplaced and inadequately conceptualized.
  • Teens are not seeking to become parents; they do so because they are ineffective at preventing conceptions.
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