• Why is the teen birth rate so high in the US?

    New from the Journal of Economic Perspectives: “Why Is the Teen Birth Rate in the United States So High and Why Does It Matter?” (ungated pdf) by Melissa S. Kearney and Phillip B. Levine:

    Why is the rate of teen childbearing is so unusually high in the United States as a whole, and in some U.S. states in particular? U.S. teens are two and a half times as likely to give birth as compared to teens in Canada, around four times as likely as teens in Germany or Norway, and almost ten times as likely as teens in Switzerland. A teenage girl in Mississippi is four times more likely to give birth than a teenage girl in New Hampshire—and 15 times more likely to give birth as a teen compared to a teenage girl in Switzerland. We examine teen birth rates alongside pregnancy, abortion, and “shotgun” marriage rates as well as the antecedent behaviors of sexual activity and contraceptive use. We demonstrate that variation in income inequality across U.S. states and developed countries can explain a sizable share of the geographic variation in teen childbearing. Our reading of the totality of evidence leads us to conclude that being on a low economic trajectory in life leads many teenage girls to have children while they are young and unmarried. Teen childbearing is explained by the low economic trajectory but is not an additional cause of later difficulties in life. Surprisingly, teen birth itself does not appear to have much direct economic consequence. Our view is that teen childbearing is so high in the United States because of underlying social and economic problems. It reflects a decision among a set of girls to “drop-out” of the economic mainstream; they choose nonmarital motherhood at a young age instead of investing in their own economic progress because they feel they have little chance of advancement.

    @afrakt

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    • Good research based talk on this and other “social ills” http://www.ted.com/talks/richard_wilkinson.html

    • Our reading of the totality of evidence leads us to conclude that being on a low economic trajectory in life leads many teenage girls to have children while they are young and unmarried.

      It is hard to imagine why that would be true.

      Do the teen girls even know that they are on a low a low economic trajectory relative to those around them. (They are of course not on a low economic trajectory compared to the world average.) It seems more likely to me that our culture, great wealth and welfare system combine to keep our teen pregnancy rate high.

      • Floccina, I find that to be a bizarre statement. Surely you don’t think that our welfare state is more generous than those of Europe for young mothers, poor or otherwise. How could our welfare system possibly explain any part of why our teen pregnancy rate is far higher than that in Europe or other developed nations like Canada?

        Culture is surely part of it, but economics (higher poverty rate) is also very plausibly involved in bringing the teen pregnancy rate higher than in economic peer nations.

        You cited some figures. Here is one clear trend in them: after passage of CHIP in Clinton’s term, the teen pregnancy and birth rates continued to decline. That goes directly contrary to your hypothesis. Also, under Clinton it became much harder for a woman to receive Medicaid unless she had children, yet the teen pregnancy and birth rates continued to decline.

        You see what you want to see, not what is there.