Unmarried, pregnant adolescents face a variety of difficult decisions. They must decide whether to give birth or to have an abortion, and whether to raise a child they bear or to place the baby for adoption. Simultaneously, they must make the same critical decisions about school, work and relationships as other teenagers must make. In designing interventions to help young women make the transition from adolescence to adulthood without having an unintended birth, it is important to understand the life circumstances, motivations and events that lead some unmarried teenagers to become pregnant and the processes involved in the decision to carry a nonmarital teenage pregnancy to term. Some researchers have investigated factors influencing the pregnancy options considered by young women in the United States who choose abortion;1 others have explored pregnancy decision-making by comparing the characteristics of young women who opt for abortion, birth or adoption.2 But rarely has pregnancy decision-making been investigated by examining the influences bearing on young women who choose to give birth. What events and communication patterns lead pregnant teenagers to this decision? Who helps them the most in making their decision, and what options do the women, their partners and their parents consider? And how does decision-making differ according to young women's pregnancy intentions and background characteristics? This study, conducted in four counties in California, was designed to address these issues for a sample of unmarried pregnant 15-18-year-olds who had decided to give birth. We explore whether their pregnancies had been planned, and we compare the characteristics and motivations of adolescents who had intended their pregnancies with those of young women who had not intended to become pregnant or had not cared whether they became pregnant. We hypothesize that characteristics that distinguish childbearing teenagers from others--such as familial disadvantage, parental absence, low aspirations, abuse and certain partner characteristics--will also distinguish young childbearing women who had intended to become pregnant from those who had not. In addition, we look at how race, ethnicity and nativity are associated with adolescents' pregnancy intentions. Finally, we investigate the factors that were most important in the young women's decision to carry their pregnancy to term. This decision may have been affected by a variety of factors: the prior intentions of the young woman and her partner regarding becoming pregnant and having a child, the woman's relationship with her partner, her age, the structure of her family, and her goals and expectations for the future.3 Other possible factors are familial or social supports that affect a young woman's ability to bear and raise a child; the accessibility of abortion services; and the acceptability of abortion to the young woman, her family and her peers. We anticipate that the findings from these analyses will be useful for educators, program planners and others involved in designing interventions to help young women avoid unintended pregnancy and childbearing and in directing ongoing medical and educational services toward young people who might be at risk for unintended pregnancy.
Public concern over teenage pregnancy and its resolution has triggered both political debate and academic inquiry. Data for the 1990s showing declines in teenage pregnancy and childbearing both nationally and in California4 raise further questions about the determinants of teenage childbearing and the factors that have contributed to the decline.
During the early 1980s, teenage birthrates in California paralleled the national average (Figure 1). After 1985, as teenage birthrates rose across the nation, California's rate rose faster and higher than the national average, increasing by more than one-third and...