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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Researchers look at teen pregnancy, education and socioeconomic status

Christina Diaz

Two UA sociology professors recently published a study about the effects of teenage pregnancy on young women’s education attainment and earnings.

For the study, the professors used data from the Child and Young Adult Cohorts of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth.

They looked at the information of women who became pregnant under the age of 18, according to Christina Diaz, assistant professor of sociology and the primary author of the study.

The data observed included types of schools the women went to, information about their mothers, behavior problems, academic skills, family structure and parental education.

The motivation for the study came from a debate among sociologists about three differing views on the effects of teenage pregnancy, according to Diaz.

One view is that a pregnant teenager will have a more difficult time earning as much money as she could if she had not become pregnant until later in life.

Another view argues that those women who do get pregnant as teenagers tend to be more disadvantaged and wouldn’t be likely to earn as much money, even without their pregnancy.

The third view says pregnancy can be a positive thing for some women, because it “makes them get their stuff together,” according to Diaz.

“We think about engaging all these sides of this childbearing debate, and what we argue then is that all of these perspectives could potentially be right and that they’re operating in different ways for different types of women,” she said. “We see evidence of all three. We’re hesitant to really endorse one side of the debate.”

When conducting the study, Diaz said she thought of the women as part of a continuum.

Women who are unlikely to get pregnant are typically considered “well-off” and with a positive home environment.

On the other hand, women who are likely to get pregnant are typically considered “more disadvantaged” and possibly performing poorly in school.

Through the study, Diaz and her co-author, Jeremy Fiel, assistant professor of sociology, found that the teens who are less likely to become pregnant have more severe consequences, when compared to teens who are more disadvantaged. For the women at an advantage, the consequences are “twice as big,” according to Diaz.

This could be because the consequences of teen pregnancy affect those who have more opportunities in a greater magnitude than women who don’t have access to those opportunities in the first place, according to Diaz.

Because of these opportunities, “more advantaged” women have consequences from their teen pregnancies in terms of earning potential and education potential.

“They’re the ones who are most likely to go to college and most likely to find well-paying jobs. Those women who are disadvantaged, they really didn’t have a lot of those resources that would enable them to go to college or complete college, even if the pregnancy didn’t occur,” Diaz said. “It’s not necessarily the pregnancy for those women that are driving these effects. It’s about stuff that comes before the pregnancy.”

The reason disadvantaged women are more likely to get pregnant could be because of the costs of contraception and family planning services, according to Jodi Liggett, the vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Arizona.

“Less affluent people would experience pregnancy at a higher rate, especially because the most effective methods of birth control are the most expensive,” she said.

Once pregnant, young women’s education attainment possibilities can change.

“Teen pregnancy is a life interrupter. It derails people from finishing high school. It can mean poverty for a young woman and her child. It diminishes her prospects,” Liggett said. “At that same time, these are folks who need to be supported. Once there’s a pregnancy there, these young women need to be supported in whatever choice they make.”

The amount of support a young, pregnant woman has can have an effect on how much the pregnancy itself affects the young woman. During the study, the sociologists looked at data about the amount of emotional support the women received from their parents throughout their childhood, as well as the quality of the women’s relationships with their parents.

Teen pregnancy has a “weaker” effect on those who had greater support from their parents, according to Fiel.

Support from schools can also make a difference. Liggett said that she thinks that schools in Arizona are “not good” at supporting pregnant teenagers.

“There’s no reason that a pregnancy should have to mean that ‘you cannot graduate high school,’ and I think collectively, we do a bad job, frankly, in supporting teenagers who have had that happen,” Liggett said.

Fiel said it was difficult to find a specific factor that explained the differences in the consequences of a pregnancy for different women; it was “more of a story of the aggregate of all these different things” that could have influenced the pregnancy.

Fiel said that the study challenges the belief that teen pregnancy contributes to poverty.

“The truth is, for the really disadvantaged young women where teen pregnancy is most common, it’s not that much of a detriment to their outcomes, most likely because they have so many other barriers in their lives,” Fiel said. He said that teen pregnancy is not the only area that needs to be improved. The issue comes down to opportunity.

“I think an important implication is that we need to think about how to improve multiple opportunities and aspects of disadvantaged young women’s lives, if we want to promote their attainment. It’s wrong to pin a lot of responsibility on early fertility,” Fiel said.

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