By Desirae M. Domenico, Ph.D. and Karen H. Jones, Ed.D.
Volume 30, Number 1, Fall 2007
Adolescent Pregnancy in America: Causes and Responses
Adolescent pregnancy has oc curred throughout America’s his tory. Only in recent years has it been deemed an urgent crisis, as more young adolescent mothers give birth outside of marriage. Atrisk circumstances associated with adolescent pregnancy in clude medical and health compli cations, less schooling and higher dropout rates, lower career aspi rations, and a life encircled by poverty. While legislation for ca reer and technical education has focused attention on special needs populations, the definition has been broadened to include single parents. This article en compasses a brief history of ado lescent pregnancy in America, factors influencing adolescent pregnancy, and the conse quences associated with adoles cent pregnancy. The conclusion includes implications for educa tors, researchers, and practitioners.
While slightly decreasing in rates in recent years, adolescent pregnancy continues to be prevalent in the United States, with nearly one million teenage females becoming pregnant each year (Meade & Ickovics, 2005; National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 2003; Sarri & Phillips, 2004). The country’s adolescent pregnancy rate re mains the highest among west ern industrialized nations, with 4 of every 10 pregnancies occur ring in women younger than age 20 (Dangal, 2006; Farber, 2003; SmithBattle, 2003; Spear, 2004). Despite a 21% decline in the rate of pregnancy among older ado lescents between ages 15 and 19, nearly 12,000 adolescent fe males under age 15 become pregnant each year (National Campaign to Prevent Teen Preg nancy, 2003; Rothenberg & Weissman, 2002; Sexuality In formation & Education Council of the United States [SIECUS], 2002). Adolescent pregnancy and childbearing are national prob lems that affect the community and society at large (Spear, 2004). Adolescent mothers be come economically dependent due to their decreased educa tional attainment, the decision to keep and raise their children, subsequent high fertility rates, and greater occurrences of single-parent families (Brindis & Philliber, 2003; Farber, 2003). Not only is adolescent pregnancy economically costly, it poses various social consequences for teen mothers. Pregnancy is one of the reasons commonly cited by female secondary students for dropping out of high school (Brindis & Philliber, 2003). Rothenberg and Weissman (2002) found that 7 out of 10 fe males who became adolescent
mothers did not graduate from high school. Less than one-third of adolescent females giving birth before age 18 ever complete high school, and the younger the pregnant adolescents are, the less likely they are to complete high school (Brindis & Philliber, 2003; Koshar, 2001). Nationally, about 25% of adolescent moth ers have a second baby within one year of their first baby, leav ing the prospect of high school graduation improbable. How ever, if a parenting female can delay a second pregnancy, she becomes less at risk for dropping out of school and her chance of finishing high school increases (Kreinin, 1998). Research reveals many ado lescent females become preg nant intentionally because they see no other life goals within their reach (Winter, 1997). Plagued by poor school perfor mance and low self-esteem, they have no realistic expectations about education or occupations; thus, pregnancy is viewed as an alternative path to economic in dependence and adult status (Brown & Barbosa, 2001; Farber, 2003; Rothenberg & Weissman, 2002; Turner, 2004). Usually adolescents who become teen mothers are already expe riencing academic difficulties in school, have low educational expectations, and are not confi dent they will graduate from high school, or are attempting to escape abusive home situa tions (Coles, 2005; Koshar, 2001). Pursuing higher educa tion or a...