Sex education — comprehensive or abstinence-only — doesn’t do much to change the behavior of adolescents, writes Jonathan Zimmerman in the San Francisco Chronicle. Poverty is the key factor determining whether teens get pregnant, give birth, quit school and raise their children in poverty.
Last year, an exhaustive five-year study confirmed that kids receiving (abstinence) instruction are no more likely to delay sexual intercourse than their peers.
. . . As University of Pennsylvania sociologist Frank Furstenberg confirmed last year, in an exhaustive review of the literature, efforts to prove the effectiveness of comprehensive sex education are “generally unimpressive, to say the least.”
Teen pregnancy doesn’t create poverty, Zimmerman writes. Poverty creates teen pregnancy.
As Furstenberg has shown, bearing a child as a teenager doesn’t hurt a woman’s prospects for education, job advancement or marriage. Ditto for her kids, who don’t suffer any measurable consequences from having a teenage mother.
Instead, they suffer for a much more basic reason: They’re poor. About two-thirds of teenage mothers live at or below the poverty line at the time they give birth. The less income and opportunity that you have, the more likely you are to become a teenage parent.
The stats I remember from about 15 years ago list three risk factors for child poverty: Mom had her first child as a teen; Mom wasn’t married when she had her first child; Mom didn’t finish high school. Ninety percent of children in families with all three risk factors were living in poverty; 9 percent of children with none of the three risk factors were in poverty. Kids with one or two factors were in between. Compared to middle-class teen moms, low-income teen mothers are more likely to drop out of high school and less likely to marry their child’s father.