Despite slowly declining teen birth rates in the United States, more than 367,000 young women and girls ages 15-19 had babies in 2010, according to a recent vital statistics report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This number accounted for almost 10% of all births that year. Making matters worse, nearly 1 in 5 of those teen births was a repeat birth, meaning it was at least the second time that teen mother had had a baby. Most of those repeat births were for a second child, but over 12% of them were for births of a third child or more.
Teenagers having babies can have negative consequences for mother and child alike. According to a study by E. Ruedinger and J.E. Cox at Children’s Hospital in Boston and Harvard Medical School, outcomes for both are worsened by the social and economic factors affecting the women independently of their status as teen mothers.
Having a child can limit a teenage mom's ability to attend school or get a job. Teenage mothers also experience high rates of depression, substance abuse, and higher levels of intimate partner violence. They also, compared to their peers, have higher rates of poverty.
Outcomes for their children are abysmal as well. Children born to teen moms experience abuse and neglect at higher rates than children born to adult moms, they have poorer language skills, and score lower on cognitive tests. When they become adults, these deficits persist – and they are then at higher risk for becoming teen moms themselves. They also have lower income levels, are at increased risk for mental illness and substance abuse, and are more likely to enter the prison system.
Teen childbearing in the United States, according to one study, “cost taxpayers (federal, state, and local) at least $10.9 billion in 2008.” Most of those costs “are associated with negative consequences for the children of teen mothers, including increased costs for health care, foster care, incarceration, and lost tax revenue.” That same study estimates that those taxpayer costs added up to about $463 million in Pennsylvania and $245 million in New Jersey in 2008.
Prevention through contraception is key. The CDC's vital statistics report found that “91.2% of teen mothers used a contraceptive method 2-6 months after giving birth.” But “only 22.4% of teen mothers used the most effective methods,” thereby putting themselves at increased risk for a subsequent pregnancy. More effective methods, including intrauterine devices (IUDs) and oral contraceptives, are associated with lower rates of repeat teen pregnancies. (Condoms can help protect against sexually transmitted diseases, which the most effective contraceptives cannot do.)
What to do? Some studies have suggested that home visits to teen moms can help reduce repeat teen pregnancies by sharing information about birth spacing and contraceptive use. It is also incredibly important for teenagers, both young women and young men, to have access to health care that includes counseling about and access to contraception.
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