In 2011, teen birth rates reached record lows. However, teen pregnancy, abortion and birth rates in the United States for teens between the ages of 15 and 19 remain among the highest in the industrialized world. Three in 10 girls will be pregnant at least once before their 20th birthday. Almost two-thirds of births among women under age 18 and more than half of births to those aged 18-19 are unintended.
Adolescent pregnancy and parenthood are closely associated with a host of social and economic issues that affect teen parents, their children and society. Teenage mothers are less likely to finish high school and are more likely than their peers to live in poverty, depend on public assistance, and be in poor health. Their children are more likely to suffer health and cognitive disadvantages, come in contact with the child welfare and correctional systems, live in poverty, drop out of high school and become teen parents themselves. According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, the annual public cost of teen childbearing—due to higher costs of public health care, foster care, incarceration and lost tax revenue—is nearly $11 billion.
High School Completion
Teen pregnancy and parenting are significant contributors to high school drop-out rates among teen girls. Thirty percent of teenage girls who drop out of high school cite pregnancy or parenthood as a primary reason. This rate is even higher for Hispanic and African American teens, 36 and 38 percent, respectively. Overall, only 40 percent of teen moms finish high school and less than two percent—of those who have a baby before age 18—finish college by age 30.
Intergenerational Impact: Children of Teen Parents
The mother’s education is not the only victim of teen childbearing; children born to teen moms often do not perform as well as children of older mothers on early childhood development indicators and school readiness measures, such as communication, cognition and social skills. Research shows that children of teen mothers not only start school at a disadvantage, they also fare worse than those born to older parents later on. For example, children born to teens have lower educational performance, score lower on standardized tests, and are twice as likely to repeat a grade. Additionally, only around two-thirds of children born to teen mothers earn a high school diploma, compared to 81 percent of children born to adults.
Older Teens & Community College
The pregnancy rate for women aged 18 to 19 is three times higher than that of younger teens and the birth rate for older adolescents is more than three and a half times that of their younger peers. Older teens account for nearly 500,000 pregnancies and 234,000 births each year. Nearly 25 percent of births to women in this age group are teens who have previously given birth, greatly increasing the challenges for these mothers and their children. With almost 70 percent of 18- and 19-year-olds attending either high school or college, unplanned pregnancies can disrupt or derail educational achievement. Sixty-one percent of women who have children after enrolling in college fail to complete their degree, a rate which is 65 percent higher than that for students who did not have children. In addition, surveys indicate that close to half of all community college students have been pregnant or gotten someone pregnant at some point.
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