According to new data from the CDC, teen pregnancy rates have reached all-time lows, dropping more than 44% from 1991 to 2010. While teen pregnancy may be on the decline, it’s far from being a non-issue in America. Why? Teen pregnancy costs an estimated $10.9 billion annually and often carries an elevated risk for both mothers and babies. Add to that the fact that the rate of teen pregnancy in America is nine times higher than that of any other developed country, despite the massive drop, and you can see why teen pregnancy isn’t an issue that’s going away anytime soon.
While many teen mothers manage to raise happy, healthy children, the outcome for many others isn’t as bright. Numerous studies have shed light on the risks, both social and physical, that come along with teen pregnancy and the results are very often quite disheartening. Things aren’t always so cut and dried, however, and as you read through this list of effects of teen pregnancy, keep in mind that many of these outcomes are not only a product of teen pregnancy but result from a combination of poverty, lack of education, and other factors that may be out of the control of these young women.
  1. Teen mothers are more likely to drop out of high school.

    Pregnancy can wreak havoc on a teen’s education. A study done by Child Trendsfound that just 50% of teen mothers will go on to earn a high school diploma by age 22, compared to 89% of those who did not have a teen birth. A whopping 34% of teen mothers earn neither a diploma nor a GED by 22. It is important to note, however, that sometimes teens that become mothers at a young age are already having educational problems, and some may have already dropped out before becoming pregnant. Either way, lack of education can have a serious impact throughout life. Without a diploma or a GED, many teen moms may find it difficult or impossible to find work. Unsurprisingly, children of unmarried, drop-out mothers are 10 times more likely to live in poverty than those born to married women over the age of 20.
  2. They’re also less likely to go to college.

    As you might infer from the previous data, teen mothers are also much less likely to go to college than their counterparts who did not have a baby in their teens. Nationally, less than 2% of young teen mothers attain a college degree before age 30. Again, it’s important to remember that some of these young women wouldn’t have chosen college regardless of their pregnancy, but for many, having a child puts college out of reach financially and makes it difficult to balance family life and studies. One study at the Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island showed that 57% of the young mothers treated at the hospital wanted to go to college, but a large portion of these teens lacked the resources and support to make that dream a reality.
  3. Teen mothers are more likely to commit suicide.

    One of the saddest studied effects of teenage pregnancy is its relationship to suicide. Due to stress, isolation, and other social factors, teenage women who are pregnant or who are mothers are seven times more likely than their peers to commit suicide, even when accounting for outside factors like economic status and education. A study in 1993 by researchers Buchholz and Kom-Bursztyn found that teen mothers had very high rates of stress and depression, brought on not only by parenting but by difficulties transitioning to adulthood, leaving home, or social isolation. These factors increased the rate of suicide, chronic depression, and aggressive behavior toward children.
  4. Siblings of teen parents are more likely to become teen parents.

    Oddly, teen pregnancy seems to have a trickle-down effect when it comes to siblings of teen parents. Siblings of teen parents are two to six times more likely to become pregnant as teens than younger siblings of teens who are not parents. Additionally, younger sisters of teen mothers often have more accepting attitudes toward early sexual activity and early births, as well as being more susceptible to high-risk behaviors. These effects are amplified if the younger sister spends 10 hours a week or more caring for the child of their sibling, with greater levels of care being directly correlated with pessimistic school aspirations, greater sexual activity, and the desire to have a child of her own. It is important to note, however, that some of this may be caused by risk factors shared by both siblings, such as environment, family dynamics, or poverty.
  5. Children of teen parents are at a higher risk of teen pregnancy.

    Unfortunately, teen pregnancy is a cycle that’s hard to break, not only between siblings but between mothers and daughters as well. Daughters born to teen parents are much more likely to become teen mothers themselves, in part because they are often living in an environment that is very similar to that which their own teen mothers were in when they became pregnant. As such, it’s unsurprising that a study found that daughters of teen mothers were much less likely to escape poverty than those of mothers who waited until their 20s to give birth, often repeating a cycle of pregnancy, poverty, and despair that is nearly impossible without outside assistance to break away from.
  6. Teen mothers are more likely to live in poverty.

    As you might have guessed from the stats so far, most teen mothers don’t fare too well financially, with 60% coming from households that were already economically disadvantaged. Teen pregnancy only makes it harder to escape from impoverished conditions, and more than 40% of teen mothers will report living in poverty by age 27. Other factors that influence high rates of poverty are a lack of education and a lack of financial support from the fathers of their children, with less than one third contributing to the care of the child. For some teen moms, however, having a child is the factor that motivates them to get out of poverty. A study by Duke economist V. Joseph Hotz found that by age 35, many former teen moms had earned more in income and collected less in public assistance than those who waited until their 20s to have babies.
  7. Children of teen mothers often perform at a lower level academically.

    Studies have shown that children of teen mothers often have a more difficult time with their psychosocial and academic development than those of older mothers. A number of developmental disabilities and behavioral issues are found in higher rates in teen mothers, something researchers believe may be linked to the fact that adolescent mothers are less likely to stimulate their infant through affectionate behaviors to be sensitive and accepting toward his or her needs. Unfortunately, the impact of teen pregnancy on children doesn’t stop there. Studies have also found that the children of teen mothers often perform well below average in school and are more likely to fail to graduate from secondary school, be held back a grade level, and score lower on standardized tests. Researchers are careful to note, however, that these statistics have just as much to do with outside factors like poverty and family background as with the teen mothers themselves.
  8. Teen pregnancy often leads to another pregnancy within two years.

    Teen mothers who have one child are much more likely to give birth to another within 24 months. A full 25% of adolescent mothers will have a second child within the first two years of having the first. There are a number of factors that increase this likelihood, including lower levels of education, poverty, lack of knowledge about contraception, and marriage. The chance of a closely spaced birth decreases if a young woman pursues more education, her parents are more highly educated, or if she lives with a parent rather than a boyfriend or husband. Sadly, the younger the mother was when she had her first child, the more likely she is to have another while still a teen: 31% for those 16 and under at the time of first birth versus 24% of those who had a first child between 17 and 19.
  9. Teen pregnancies come with higher mortality rates.

    Having a child at a young age is risky for both mother and baby. Worldwide, the World Health Organization estimates that the risk of death following pregnancy is twice as great for women between 15 and 19 years as for those between 20 and 24 and as much as five times higher for mothers 14 and under. Outcomes can also be risky for babies. The March of Dimes reports that babies of teenage mothers are more likely to die during their first year of life, and the younger the mother, the higher the risk. According to a study in 2005, out of every 1,000 babies in the U.S., 16.4 died during their first year of life when the mother was younger than 15 years old. When the mother was older, only 6.8 out of every 1,000 babies lost their lives.
  10. Sons of teen moms are more likely to end up in prison.

    A son born to a young woman in her teens is 13% more likely to serve time behind bars in his teens or early 20s as one that is born to a mother between 20 and 21, the results of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth in 1991 revealed. Even when other background factors are controlled, there is still a link between teen childbearing and incarceration, perhaps because teen parents often lack the experience to effectively parent children, as they are still children themselves. If teen mothers were to delay childbearing until their 20s, the risk of incarceration would fall by 12% and nationwide correctional costs would drop by an estimated $900 million.
  11. Teen moms are less likely to marry.

    Seventy-nine percent of teen pregnancies happen to unmarried teen couples, and this early pregnancy outside of marriage often leads young women to be less likely to marry later on, with 19% remaining single (versus 13% of adult mothers) and 46% living with a boyfriend or significant other. Teen mothers are unlikely to marry the fathers of their children and those that do often end up in unstable and sometimes abusive relationships. Additionally, daughters of teenage mothers who become teen moms are even less likely to ever marry.
  12. Teen pregnancies carry a higher risk of health problems.

    Part of what boosts the rate of mortalities in teen births is that, worldwide, teens have a higher rate of premature birth and low birth-weight babies. Many researchers believe that this is due to a lack of adequate prenatal care, either because teen mothers are too scared or lack the financial resources to seek out medical help. Many wait until the third trimester to see a doctor, which raises levels of anemia and nutritional deficiencies in young mothers. Because of this lack of early care, children of teen mothers are more likely to suffer from health issues and to be hospitalized within their first year of life.
While these facts can’t be ignored, it’s also important to remember that while teen mothers struggle in a number of ways, often poor outcomes from their pregnancies are the result of more than just their age. The best way to help young mothers and to break the cycle of teen pregnancies may be to focus on reducing many of the hurdles caused by the socioeconomic factors that hold young mothers back rather than to focus solely on preventing teen pregnancies in the first place.


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