New on Babble: Which Comes First: Poverty or Teen Pregnancy?


Here’s an interesting new finding: teen pregnancy may not lead to poverty. In fact, poverty may lead to teen pregnancy.

Mind-blowing, right? Here’s a little of what I wrote about this over at Babble today:

There’s a new paper in the Journal of Economic Perspectives that says teen girls don’t become poor because they have babies. Instead, they have babies because they are poor.

The study concludes that for young women in the United States “being on a low economic trajectory in life leads many teenage girls to have children while they are young and unmarried and that poor outcomes seen later in life (relative to teens who do not have children) are simply the continuation of the original low economic trajectory.” In other words, being stuck in the cycle of poverty is a risk factor for teen birth.

The study also indicates that young women growing up in areas of significant income inequality are even more likely to become mothers in their teens.

As a long-time advocate for access to health care, contraception, and sex education as means of preventing unwanted pregnancy, I feel like the ground has gotten a little shaky under my feet from this study. It’s relatively easy to increase access to health care and comprehensive sex ed (not cheap, but easy). But breaking the cycle of systemic poverty? That’s only the biggest social issue of all time. And if systemic poverty is a risk factor for teen pregnancy, well, suddenly I have a lot fewer good answers than I thought I did.

In these days of economic stagnation, systemic poverty is more entrenched than ever. I wish I had a pat answer for how to fix things but I really don’t. No on does. Whatever the answer turns out to be, its going to be cataclysmic, that’s for sure. Because squabbling about taxes and abortion sure as hell isn’t doing the trick.

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