Emma Lord
March 05, 2015 4:04 pm

Although it isn’t talked about as often these days as it was even a few years ago, teenage pregnancy is still a huge social issue — particularly in figuring out why teen women of color are almost two times more likely to become pregnant between the ages 15 and 19. A lot of research has been committed to this social phenomenon, and their findings show that, overall, the rates of teenage pregnancy have gone down drastically, with 57% fewer incidences even in the last twenty-five years. Still, researchers puzzled as to why exactly teens of African American and Hispanic descent were over twice as likely to have children in their high school years, and what exactly would need to happen to solve the problem.

Why is this happening? 

Bill Albert, the chief program officer for the National Campaign To Prevent Teen And Unplanned Pregnancy, says that the root of the problem lies not in the color of skin or in cultural or ethnic differences, but rather in poverty level and access to education. This, in turn, leads to less access contraceptives to prevent STDs and pregnancy or even the understanding of how to use them.

There are two other contributing factors, Albert explains: One is that in underprivileged communities young girls are often pressured to have sex at a young age, even by peers who haven’t had sex yet themselves. These young women are often exploited by older men, who are likely not mindful of contraceptives. The other factor he mentions is that teenage pregnancy tends to be generational, in that women who are born to teen moms are more likely to be teen moms themselves.

So what can be done? 

Millions of tax dollars have been committed to funding for educational programs to curb the phenomenon, and the good news is that some of them appear to be working. Birth rates among all teens are falling, but birth rates among teens of color are dropping at an even faster rate, particularly in areas with educational programs specifically targeted toward the cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds of women that they are teaching. Some states are even engaging the students themselves, asking women in colleges of states with high birth rates to help craft the programs.

More than anything, though, the people behind this legislation, particularly the CDC’S Division Of Reproductive Health, stress that it is vital that the programs are flexible and adaptable to their audiences so that they really resonate. Some states are more cooperative than others with integrating the programs — Mississippi, for instance, has seen a great reduction in teenage pregnancy rates since their introduction, whereas Kansas recently proposed a law that would actually restrict sexual education access in public schools.

Albert also stresses that the message behind these programs needs to be a more positive one: “We haven’t done a good job as a nation about telling young people why we think it’s a good idea to delay pregnancy and parenthood. I think sometimes these messages come off as anti-family and anti-baby rather than talking about when and under what circumstances it is good to start a family.”

Researchers are hoping these efforts will help broaden the access of education teens of color in particular, and the decline in teenage pregnancy will lead to an even field of opportunity for education and advancement for all women.

(Images from here and here.)

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