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Teen Birth Rate and Births to Unmarried Mothers Rise

. . . for the first time in 14 years. Not a cheerful or a promising development . . . unless it indicates a reduction in the number of abortions (which I doubt). The widespread availability of birth-control--even to Jr. High students and without the knowledge of their parents--seems to counter the argument that kids need ever-increasing access to and education about birth control in order to promote a reduction in teen birth rates. We’ve done that and now we have more. Hmmmm. Perhaps there are other causes. Oh yes! Sex causes pregnancy. I think I remember learning that once (or twice).

Discussions - 14 Comments

Except I'm not sure that teens are really as knowledgeable about birth control, or as well exposed to it, as the right seems to think. Liberal blogs often post stories similar to this, only to complain about how abstinence education is to blame. I think both sides overestimate the power and influence of the other. If girls in north-central Ohio (my area) are getting pregnant it is almost certainly due to their abstinence education, while I'm sure girls in NYC are taught much more about birth control. We should careful in our assumptions here.

Teens, schmeens. What's chilling here is the data showing that "births to unmarried mothers hit a new record high." The plateauing of the out-of-wedlock-birth rate that Charles Murray celebrated in the 1992 Public Interest anniversary issue is over. If we don't return to the plateau pronto, Fukuyama's "Great Disruption" will be prove to be not a cultural revolution we can learn to handle, but merely Stage One of the Great Meltdown.

I see, a bad moon a'risin'...

Buu says: If girls in north-central Ohio (my area) are getting pregnant it is almost certainly due to their abstinence education, while I'm sure girls in NYC are taught much more about birth control. I disagree with both things. It is neither the availability nor the absence of birth control (or the predominance of abstinence education or its lack thereof) that is getting teens pregnant . . . what's getting teens pregnant is sex. They seem to be having more of it. The odds are against them in this. There are reasons for this development but they are much more complicated than what we do or don't teach in sex ed classes.

Carl is right to point out that the more alarming statistic is the rise in unwed motherhood--though I would point out that most teen moms are also unwed.

Don't you wonder how this correlates to the data about there being more women in college than men? There has to be some overlap or connection since there is overlap in the demographic.

I know we are going to cluck-cluck about the young women, but isn't part of the problem that young men are not held accountable for their actions in this? The teen mothers in my classes (a 17 year old student's recent email, "I was sick, now my four year old son is sick. I won't be in class again today.") at the community college are badly over-worked and over-stressed. They are juggling child, work, school and write about wishing they could find some suitable man to help them with the load. One of my students, also 17 and still in high school except for my class and a para-legal course, wants to be a lawyer when she grows up. Her former boyfriend is suing her for custody of their child on the grounds that she is an unfit mother. Why?

1. She got pregnant at age 15.

2. She has the child in daycare while she is at school and work all day. If her parents weren't helping her, I can't imagine how she would survive.

There is an awareness about abortion, and a concern about the ethics of abortion, but without any corresponding alteration in moral behavior. Maybe we can hope that is a temporary problem. One student stopped coming to class and her friend says it is because the girl is pregnant and too sick to manage both school and work. That girl had proclaimed her feminism. Perhaps for this group, feminism means that you must manage this for yourself. If fathers are irrelevant, then this can be done, surely.

This is not a matter of abstinence education failing. These girls in my classes have had sex ed. since they were in elementary school. To be an unwed mother is no big deal - except to live it out, which is apparently not discussed in any realistic way. It all falls on these girls and they take that for granted. It ought not to be so.

I blame George W. Bush. Isn't everything his fault?

This is not a matter of abstinence education failing. Quite right. But I am dubious about its ability to succeed in the face of our moral decay. To me it rather looks like using a towel to mop up the aftermath of a deluge.

I would have to concur, the men, or boys in most cases, are getting off scott free. While my simple mind does not know of a fix, the male of our species needs to be held accountable.

Men (and boys) have always had the advantage of getting off "scott free" in these situations. That is, more or less, a necessary "advantage" of the facts of biology. No laws will ever make the man's responsibilities or sacrifices as numerous or as all-encompassing as those of the woman's in childbirth and child-rearing. In reading Benjamin Franklin's autobiography recently, I was struck by how he left the Boston of his youth. He fabricated a story about having gotten a woman of ill-repute in a family way and was granted passage on a ship by its captain out of pity. Franklin later had a friend who went over to England with him and--in so doing--that friend abandoned his wife and child and easily took up residence with some other woman and her child. It almost goes without saying that this second woman was similarly ill-used. It's always been easier and more socially acceptable for men to walk away. They don't carry; they don't bear; and they don't suckle their children.

A common sensical understanding of these of these facts and these differences used to inform our laws and our moral sentiments about paternity and marriage. Implicit in these laws was a recognition of female vulnerability and dependence. But in the last 40 years or more, we have tended to reject the notion of female dependence and vulnerability. Feminism, in the name of promoting greater freedom of choice and independence for women, has stubbornly ignored these fundamental differences of nature and worked in tandem with male interests to make women even more vulnerable and--far from making a majority of women more independent--they have only transfered the dependence of large blocks of women from their men to dependence on the government. And they have stirred up a lot of angst and depression among married women who now question things their great-grandmothers could accept with a cheerful and contrite heart. It is a kind of willful stupidity, in my view. And it's a willful stupidity that is in the service mainly of men--but also of elite women who would have been able to exercise the kind of independence they relish no matter what the general situation and laws were like. For these few exceptions (and imagined exceptions) to female nature, we have made bad policies that have ruined lives. Now the wake of this wave of carnage is growing and spreading to even more vulnerable levels: our teens.

It's ridiculous to say "sex causes pregnancy" or "what's causing teens to get pregnant is sex" without further substantial context. For instance, this particular fact is very important. Sex causes pregnancy at a much greater rate when birth control isn't used than when it is used. And a variety of studies have shown that when teens who have pledged abstinence fail to live up to their pledge they either don't have the necessary birth control at the necessary moment or they don't use it, don't know how to use it, or just chance it.

This latest news that the teen birth rate is up matches up with the news that teen sex rates have stopped falling. According to this chart teen sex rates even went up a bit after 2000. I don't know why, but looking at the charts, we can see progress (or, as Julie might describe it, "a deluge") regarding teen sex during the Clinton years, and that progress halted (or even skipped up slightly) soon after Bush took office.

Mr. Knippenberg issued a snarky one-liner above about blaming Bush. Do I think GWB is personally responsible for the bad trends here? No. Do I think it's very interesting to note that the increased funding for and utilization of abstinence-only programs in schools, a policy definitely connected with the Bush Jr. administration, has coincided with, at the very least, the cessation of years of earlier progress (most of which appear to coincide with the Clinton presidency)? Yes. I don't know if there was some federal policy push on sexuality education during the Clinton years, but there certainly has been durig GWB's two terms, and it could be summed up simply as "abstinence."

I guess it's some version of funny to try to pre-empt Bush criticism by making it look like anyone who might point to a Bush administration POLICY for this recent problem as being someone who blames Bush "for everything," but I do recall with great clarity many conservatives blaming Clinton for teens engaging in oral sex after the Lewinsky affair was brought to light by Ken Starr, Linda Tripp, Jonah Goldberg's mom, and others on the right. I think THAT causal connection would be significantly harder to draw than the one between specific Bush admin. policies and the stats of this year that would indicate less actual abstinence. If abstinence programs work, shouldn't teen sex and birth rates be going down?

Craig Scanlon . . . I think you are confusing me for a fan of abstinence only education. I'm not. But I also think you're confused about what actually goes on in so-called "abstinence" programs. Most are not "abstinence ONLY" but present abstinence as only one choice among many. They present abstinence as a form of birth control more than as a good, sound, common-sensical policy for unmarried young people. There's not much emphasis on protecting your emotional health--esp. for girls--which is the largest danger for young women engaged in recreational sex. But as I am not a fan of so-called abstinence programs in the schools, neither am I a fan of the competing vision from the left. Is it really that long ago that you were in some of these sex-ed classes yourself? Don't you remember rolling your eyes? Do you remember really learning anything that you didn't already know? Wasn't your own natural curiosity and the guidance of a sensible adult enough to lead you to all the appropriate research and information? Didn't you and all your peers sneer at the earnest do-gooders teaching these classes? Weren't they mostly big nerds you couldn't imagine having sex anyway? Almost all of these "classes" are pretty lame. And that stems from the nature of the subject. It is a private thing. Making it public like this makes it lame and unerotic and, frankly, uninteresting. Who is going to listen to his health teacher about sex? The whole notion that this stuff should be taught at school in this earnest kind of gospel spreading way offends me. Both sides of this debate are in a frenzy of righteous enthusiasm. People with common sense on the subject (i.e., most parents) are ignored. My kids will never attend any such program no matter what the substance is. We can discuss those matters at home, in private, and in a way that suits the interests of each of my children. And guess who will make that decision . . . we will.

Julie, your characterization of health teachers or anyone else who tackles sexuality education as a "big nerd" and/or an "earnest do-gooder" certainly doesn't apply to my personal experiences. To some extent, it was treated as an unpleasant task that someone had to do, and the teacher(s) who took it on were reluctant heroes of sorts. Yes, of course there was snickering and some elements of the absurd to the class ("This is a penis, and this is a vagina" - that sort of thing) and the teachers were aware of some of that, but there were aspects of it that were really quite effective and quite helpful, especially for those kids who were too terrified, embarrassed, or both to talk about the subject with their own parents (and that didn't always indicate a bad relationship between child and parent, either). A lot of the kids were NOT sexually active, and had no plans to be (for a variety of reasons) but still took more notes in that class than in many others - useful information to be utilized at a later date! As for your other queries:

-"Do you remember really learning anything that you didn't already know?"

A few things, yes.

-"Wasn't your own natural curiosity and the guidance of a sensible adult enough to lead you to all the appropriate research and information?"

Not necessarily. For some teens, just looking up factual aspects of sex can induce feelings of embarrassment, shame or guilt just as severe as if they were caught hiding a Playboy under the mattress or whatever. And it's ALSO true that for many teens, "research" rapidly devolves into seeking stimulation, be it a girl's magazine with the hot guy of the moment, or for a guy, a Sears catalog. Getting useful facts about the mechanics and the risks and the boring, but essential, SCIENCE of sex isn't found this way.

-"Weren't they [the sex-ed teachers] mostly big nerds you couldn't imagine having sex anyway?"

Well, I knew they had kids of their own and they were older than the sex symbol celebs of the day, so I didn't really try to imagine them having sex.

-"Making it public like this makes it lame and unerotic and, frankly, uninteresting. Who is going to listen to his health teacher about sex?"

I think a lot of us did, to some extent. We weren't looking for eroticism, it was an actual (not fantasy) class, after all. I think most of us were able to make the distinction between the factual realities we were taught in the class and the erotic elements that hopefully occur in real life.

-"The whole notion that this stuff should be taught at school in this earnest kind of gospel spreading way offends me."

You've been rather vague about what "this stuff" is, but if any gospel is being spread I would say that it's the abstinence line, what w/ having students sign absurd virginity pledges and whatnot (and let's not delve into how ineffective those have proven to be). Presenting abstinence as "as only one choice among many" (hmmmm...sounds like "intelligent design"! - and I highly doubt that is how many of the programs are actually taught) strikes me as incredibly pointless. Yes, of course, you won't get a disease or experience an unintended pregnancy if you don't have sex. The idea with sex ed is that you're learning about sex, not "NOT sex". Teens understand that they can NOT have sex - that is what they've been doing for years, not having it! And, if anything, teaching abstinence is, quite often, literally mixed in with actual Gospel (Bible) teaching. Teaching abstinence in a sex ed program is like teaching "How to drive to Burger King and order a combo meal" in a home economics class, where the idea is people are supposed to learn, among other things, what cooking is all about. The "not cooking, and getting fast food" part requires no formal training.

The biological mechanics of the thing are already learned in biology classes--at least they were part of the biology classes I took at a CATHOLIC high school. You are right that sex ed classes today (even the ones with abstinence components) are taught mainly in order to teach sex--not "NOT sex". But they also neglect to teach you WHY to have sex and subsequently, they give you no reason as a teenager to consider WHY you should NOT. Your metaphor about home economics class doesn't work at all. In home ec, at least you learn WHY cooking dinner is better for you than eating fast food. In sex ed (if they have it at all) you should learn that getting married and having a satisfying relationship is better than "fast food" sex (which is exactly what teenage sex is). I agree with you that the virginity pledges are a bit over-the-top ridiculous. I don't like that kind of evangelism any better than I like the evangelism of your side. I am arguing against both extremes here and asking that parents and teachers try to keep their heads. It's o.k. to tell a teenager that he or she is very foolish to get involved in a sexual relationship. It's o.k. to pass judgment on the thing.

The schools teaching sex ed are certainly missing something in the ed. part. The sex part seems to being taught all too well, or probably does not have to taught, eros being what it is. I have too many sadder but wiser girls in my classes. We need Delayed Gratification classes or something like that. "How to Say No to Him/Her and to Yourself" 101.

xpTW77 Wow, it can be truth

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