Addressing the teen-motherhood ‘crisis’

Is teenage motherhood actually the problem?

If teen motherhood is really costly, then many teenage girls are either uninformed about its costs, or too impulsive to do something upon this information. Providing them with better information and the capability to avoid impulsive behaviour will be effective policy. But, if the true reason teen mothers have bad outcomes is that these were already disadvantaged, they will probably disregard the incorrect information, especially because it violates their own experience. And, if teen motherhood isn’t the problem, changing the teens’ behaviour so they avoid motherhood, won’t help them.

Distinguishing correlation from causality is difficult. We don’t get to conduct experiments where we randomly force some teens to provide birth and others never to. And, even if some mad social scientist were to conduct this experiment, he’d get the incorrect answer. We aren’t thinking about the hypothetical aftereffect of having a baby on a random teen, however the influence on teens that are sexually active, usually do not use effective contraceptive, and wouldn’t normally have an abortion if indeed they became pregnant. The price of a birth may be high for teens at no threat of having a baby, but unless we are thinking about teen pregnancy promotion programs, that’s irrelevant. Ideally, we wish to learn how delaying birth would affect the outcomes of teens (and their children) whose behaviour will be affected by a teenager pregnancy prevention programme.

We can not identify this target group perfectly, but we are able to get close. Joseph Hotz, Susan McElroy and Seth Sanders (2005) remarked that teens who miscarry give a good comparison group for individuals who give birth. Both groups were sexually active and didn’t use effective contraception. Moreover, miscarriage is just about medically random. Hotz, McElroy and Sanders treat women who miscarried as teens as a random sample of these who have otherwise given birth, or chosen with an abortion. They find that almost all of the undesireable effects of teen motherhood are short-lived. By age 28, teen mothers worked more and earned a lot more than their counterparts who had miscarried. By this age, the difference in the amount of children was small, suggesting that teen motherhood largely affects the timing of births. Arline Geronimus (1987) shows that, at least among disadvantaged African-Americans, health outcomes could be better for the kids of teen mothers than they might be if the mothers delayed motherhood until their mid-20s.

However the Hotz, McElroy and Sanders email address details are a touch too positive. The problem is that women who choose with an abortion are at threat of a miscarriage over a shorter period than those that would not, and so are therefore under-represented among the sample of miscarriages. Since among teens who have a baby, anyone who has abortions are drawn from more advantaged backgrounds, this leads to a benign view of teen motherhood. However, we are able to also compare teens who miscarried with teens who gave birth. That is also biased, but towards a detrimental view of teen births, because miscarriages include some teens who experienced abortions while births, by definition, usually do not. Adam Ashcraft and I (2006) show these two approaches place fairly tight bounds on the consequences of teen motherhood, and that the consequences, while adverse, are most likely small.

In newer work, Ashcraft, Ivan Fernandez-Val and I (2013) show that it’s possible to handle the technical complexities due to abortion in two various ways. We can have a weighted average of both biased estimates, or we are able to compare the outcomes for teens who gave birth with the outcomes for the miscarriage group adjusted for the current presence of women who would experienced abortions had they not miscarried. The email address details are consistent across many different approaches and specifications.

  • There is absolutely no evidence of large undesireable effects of teen motherhood on adult outcomes. The most consistent email address details are that the teen mothers certainly are a few percentage points less inclined to be married and much more likely to be divorced, and some percentage points less inclined to have either a senior high school diploma, or even to have passed a higher school equivalency exam.

None of the studies quite answers the question we lay out earlier, the result of teen motherhood on the types of teens whose pregnancy may be prevented by a teenager pregnancy prevention program. Miscarriages happen randomly. Therefore, studies that depend on miscarriage to create (non)-births random usually do not necessarily reveal about the consequences on teens whose behaviour may be altered by an application. And, actually, one reason that the difference in outcomes between teens who miscarry and the ones who give birth could be small, is that lots of teens who miscarry have a baby again and present birth as a teenager anyway. We estimate that 31% of teens who miscarry and who not need had an abortion subsequently give birth as a teenager. If we treat the group of teens who would not need had an abortion but who miscarry and who usually do not subsequently give birth as a teenager as representative of teens whose behaviour may be changed by an education program, our estimates still claim that avoiding a teenager birth could have little influence on their adult outcomes.

The true key is changing the surroundings

The true key to addressing teen motherhood is changing the surroundings. Russell Weinstein and I (2012) find that in the 1950s, and far of the 1960s, when the teen birth rate was two . 5 times its current rate in america, a lot of women benefited from teen pregnancy. Even among those that were not married during conception, relatively disadvantaged girls who gave birth had higher family incomes than those that miscarried as teens. Times have changed. Teen birth rates have fallen because, for some girls, having a baby as a teenager is a bad choice, and for that reason they avoid it.

But there remains a segment for whom the decision appears to be low priced, and perhaps even beneficial. Girls who expect their health to deteriorate within their twenties and/or who usually do not have a much adequate financial resources may conclude that they must have their children while still healthy even though their mothers remain young enough to greatly help with the grandchildren. Since this conclusion could be correct, ‘better education’ won’t solve the problem. Instead, our focus should be on providing the types of opportunities that disadvantaged women won’t want to forgo because of a teenager birth.


Ashcraft, Adam and Kevin Lang, (2006), “THE RESULTS of Teenage Childbearing”, National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. 12485.

Ashcraft, Adam, Ivan Fernández-Val, Kevin Lang (2013), “THE RESULTS of Teenage Childbearing: Consistent Estimates When Abortion Makes Miscarriage Non-random,” Economic Journal, 123 (571) (September): 875-905;

Geronimus, Arline T. (1987) “On Teenage Childbearing and Neonatal Mortality in america,” Population and Development Review, 13: 2 (June): 245-279.

Geronimus, Arline T. and Sanders Korenman (1992), “The Socioeconomic Consequences of Teen Childbearing Reconsidered,” Quarterly Journal of Economics 107 (4): 1187-1214 doi:10.2307/2118385.

Hotz, V. Joseph, Susuan Williams McElroy and Seth G. Sanders (2005), “Teenage Childbearing and its own Life Cycle Consequences,” Journal of RECRUITING, 40 (3): 683-715.

Hamilton, B. E., Martin, J.A. & Ventura, S. J.(2013). Births: Preliminary data for 2012. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. Retrieved September 30, 2013, from

Lang, Kevin and Russell Weinstein (2012), “Evaluating Student Outcomes at For-Profit Colleges,” NBER Working Paper No. 18201.

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