In the US, teen pregnancy rates have been decreasing in the last decade even though current rates remain twice as high as those found in other industrialized nations (Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1994). In spite of decreasing rates, among African American teenagers, the pregnancy rate is particularly high. In 1996, the pregnancy rate was 178.9 per thousand among African-American females aged 15 to 19 years, compared with a pregnancy rate of 82.6 among whites (Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1999). Additionally, on the basis of the findings of the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth, it was determined that African American females (48%) aged 15 to 17 were more likely than their white (34%) counterparts to have had sexual intercourse since menarche. On the basis of information provide by the National Center for Health Statistics (1997), African-American females aged 15 to 19 were more likely than their white peers to have had their first sexual experience (i.e., intercourse) without using effective contraception (24% versus 14%, respectively). Consequently, on the basis of such risky behavior, African American teenagers are at greater risk than their white peers for experiencing a pregnancy.
pregnant, especially if it was with the baby’s father. A concluded by Harris, most of the mothers believed that sexual intercourse was a behavior they were going to continue to engage in, regardless of threat of disease or pregnancy. As compared to the adolescent fathers participating in the study, Harris reported that most of the fathers indicated that they were now engaging in protected sex.
As many have suggested, while engagement in unprotected sexual intercourse at an early age places adolescents at risk for pregnancy, there are a number of other factors that influence African American teen pregnancy rates. According to Dervarics (2004), African American teen mothers and fathers are often represented among the rising number of minority “disconnected” youth in the US. This group is comprised of teens ages 16 to 19 who are both out of school and out of work. Dervarics reported that nearly
A quarter of African Americans ages 18 to 19 falls into the disconnected category. As a consequence of being disconnected, as explained by the author, African American youth find themselves facing the risk of living their lives on society’s margins. By age 20, many of these youth are challenged as they face adulthood unprepared, unsupported and with little hope that the future will be any different than that which they have already experienced.
As reported by Dervarics (2004), disconnected teens are most often those youth who are high school dropouts, young parents, and juvenile offenders. Dervarics indicated that in 2003, 8 percent of U.S. residents ages 16 to 19, about 1.4 million youth, were not in school and not holding a job, with the number of disconnected youth among African Americans and Hispanics at 12 percent, double the rate for whites. The extensive presence of minority youth in the disconnected population has increasingly brought attention to what has now become identified as a traditionally “hidden” American problem.
Some of the factors identified by Dervarics (2004) as contributing to disconnection include the ongoing presence of a stagnating economy, with minority youth being those that are “the last hired, first fired, and last rehired.” Accompanying difficulties in the job market, as reported by Dervarics, African American youth also are experiencing higher-than-expected school dropout rates overall, particularly in urban areas with large numbers of minority youth. However, as noted by Dervarics, of even greater concern are those youth between ages 18 and 19, who are at the outer edge of the traditional age for high school attendance. Among this group, 23 percent of African Americans and 20 percent of Hispanics were not in school and not working last year, with these figures have risen 10 percent since 2000.
Lardner (2005) reported that a major factor that influences teen pregnancy amongst African American youth is associated with the harsh realities of being a member of a disadvantaged population. Most teen mothers are poor at the time of their pregnancy and continue to remain in poverty status after the birth of their child, suggesting that their children will fare badly regardless of the childbearing age of their parent. According to Lardner, among African-Americans nationwide, babies born to first-time mothers between 15 and 19 actually enjoy better health than babies born to first-time mothers in their twenties; however, in poor urban areas, disadvantage leads to substantial problems associated with teen pregnancy. As Lardner explained, this reality is evidence within considering the fact that the infant mortality rate for teen mothers in Harlem is 11 deaths per thousand births, with this figure jumping to 22, on average, when women delay childbearing until their twenties.
As explained by Lardner (2005), teen pregnancy is only one symptom of the larger problem associated with the overall health of African American women. According to the author, similar problems can be found when examining issues of relevance of to blood pressure, levels of lead and other toxins, drug and alcohol use, and disability. Among African American females in poor urban areas, there tends to be an ongoing and increasing deterioration of health, reflective of long-term severe socioeconomic disadvantage. As explained by Lardner, this phenomenon is evidenced when comparing infant mortality rates for black and white babies born to teen mothers, with the rates and gaps increasing as African American mothers grow older. According to Lardner, when members of low socioeconomic groups, African American women find their health deterioration beginning in their teen years and accelerating through their
Mid-twenties, with reproductive disadvantage intensifying.
On the basis of such information, as reported by Lardner (2005), one explanation for higher rates of teen pregnancy among African Americans may be that there is a growing awareness that earlier births help to ensure that a mother will be in better physical health when she will be most needed as a parent. According to Lardner, among the larger population of all women, a woman who has a first baby in her late twenties can expect to be heavily occupied with motherhood in her late thirties and early forties; however, these years are those in which African-American women in urban areas are often faced with chronic illness and disability. As well, as reported by Lardner, African American teen mothers in inner cities are not afforded the same hopes as those females who are middle class and who are often aware that they will have opportunities beyond age 18 or 19 to become better educated, better skilled, and thus eventually more employable. With such opportunities, middle class youth have every reason to believe that they will be able to be better parents if they delay having children. Alternatively, African American teen mothers in central cities fail to recognize and are not afforded the opportunity to have hope for much beyond high school completion. Consequently, as explained by Lardner, poor families are often very good at recognizing the lack of hope that exists for African American teens and can unwittingly propel them towards teen pregnancy as an option for their future. As described by Lardner, in African American communities, the support and nurture of the young is a shared responsibility among family members, which can operate as a social insurance against unemployment, loss of welfare benefits, homelessness, disability, imprisonment, and premature death. Since older female family members, including grandmothers, aunts and great aunts often assume vital caretaking roles in poor African American families, in recognition of the fact of associated health risks that escalate with age, it may be that it is more beneficial for African American teens to have children at a time in which older family members are more healthy and able to serve as a resource for new mothers. According to Lardner, such arrangements help meet family and community expectations regarding supportive kinship roles in the African American family. As extended family members assist with child care and child rearing, they too help to ensure that there will be a larger pool of family members available to them who they can turn for support as they age and their risk of disability increases.
According to Lardner (2005), among African American males in the inner city, health is also a major issue with a 15-year-old boy only having about a one-in-three chance of reaching age 65. Approximately two thirds of African American males in inner cities will be dead before they have completed their productive years. Thus, similar to females, there is an unintentional push toward early reproduction during the
Teen pregnancy is a major concern for African American youth and families. While rates have decreased, they continue to remain high, with pregnancies resulting in ongoing problems for mothers, fathers and infants. In spite of the fact that a number of factors influence the occurrence of teen pregnancy, it is important to understand that for those teens from lower socioeconomic groups living in urban areas, pregnancy may represent a strategy for coping with economic uncertainty and for attempting to protect ones self from the realities of poor health associated with poverty. It is these issues that attention must be directed towards in order to reduce teen pregnancy rates.
Alan Guttmacher Institute. (1994). Sex and America’s teenagers. NY: The Alan Guttmacher Institute.
Alan Guttmacher Institute. (1999). Teenage pregnancy: Overall trends and state-by-state information. NY: The Alan Guttmacher Institute.
Dervarics, C. (2005). Minorities overrepresented among America’s ‘disconnected’ youth. Population Reference Bureau. Found online at: http://www.prb.org/Template.cfm?Section=PRB&template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=11335
Lardner, J. (2005). Arline Geronimus on teen parenthood. Inequality.Org. Found online at: http://www.inequality.org/teenparenthood.html
National Center for Health Statistics. (1997). Fertility, family planning, and women’s health: New data from the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.