University of Maryland Economist and Professor Melissa Kearney, in collaboration with Economist Phillip Levine from Wellesley College, are studying a new variable in teen birth rates: income inequality, specifically between the middle and lower class. There is already research to support the idea that teens from poor families are more likely to have a child as a teenager, but this new study delves deeper.
Levine claims, "If you're poor in a high inequality location, then you're really much more likely to give birth as a teenager. If you're at the bottom of the distribution and it's very difficult to move up from that position in the distribution, that may lead to the hopelessness and the despair."
Although the United States has experienced a forty-four percent decline in teen pregnancies in the past twenty years, the U.S. still has the highest rate among developed countries. Levine believes that difference in income inequality between other countries and the United States can explain upwards of half the difference in teen birth rates.
The state of Massachusetts defies this pattern. Even with a large income inequality, this state has the third-lowest teen birth rate in the country. The researchers attribute this to a better education system, which gives more oppurtunities to those with lower incomes. Other states that also do not follow this pattern are Vermont and New Hampshire.
The research suggests that policy regarding teen birth rates should shift to an earlier point in teen's lives because abstinence programs, contraceptive acccess and welfare reform address behaviors that occur right before pregnancy. Instead, investments should be made in childhood education.
For more information, visit http://www.wbur.org/2012/05/21/teen-birth-rate
May 21, 2012