Debunking Racist and Classist Myths about Teen Pregnancy.

A study put out by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unwanted Pregnancy has found evidence that the majority of teens at risk of unwanted pregnancy are not from low income and/or single parent families.
via Susan Reimer for the Baltimore Sun.

According to research conducted for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, only 28 percent of those who report having given birth or fathered a child as a teen lived in families with incomes below the federal poverty line.
And just 30 percent of those who report having given birth to or fathered a child as a teen say they were living with a single parent.
We are not only wrong – and probably bigoted – about whose teens get pregnant. Those of us in middle-class, intact families have our heads seriously in the sand if we think it can’t happen to us.

This doesn’t change that low-income families are disproportionately at risk of unwanted or teen pregnancy, but it certainly changes the demonized media image of the poor, black, single, teenage mom, so readily available to the national imagination. Looks like all those family values indoctrinated via abstinence-only education programs are not working out so well for all the “intact” families of America.

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  • Athenia

    Can we say Bristol Palin?

  • MotherofJackals

    I have a few problems with how this study and other like it are presented. First they include women up to 20 years old. I had a baby at 19 but I was married,employed, and had graduated high school. IMO that is a very different situation than a 14 year who has a baby and drops out of school but, we are both lumped as “pregnant” teens.
    Second sure 28% isn’t a majority but the article doesn’t define what percentage of families are living below the poverty line. The “poverty” line is also an issue. I can tell you from experience you can be pretty damn poor and not technically be living below the poverty line.
    I won’t even pretend that getting pregnant as a teen is a poor, black, single parent home issue. However I will put forth that if a white girl from a middle class/two parent family gets pregnant at 16 her chances of staying in school, going to college and living above the poverty line at some point in her life are higher than for a minority girl from a low income, single parent family.
    I don’t see it as race/class as much as reality issue. People with fewer resources are hit harder by set backs such as unplanned pregnancy. The result is often generations who can’t raise themselves from poverty because of a cycle of early/unplanned births and lack of education.

  • SenBoxerFan

    I agreed. Just take Bristol Palin for an example, her mother and grandmother were both practicing abstinence only when they got pregnant by God, forcing them to get married.
    Since Sarah Palin taught Bristol that she should save herself for marriage, she embraced her virgin pregnancy that God had bestowed upon her, for she is still a virgin. (Just kidding).
    I do believe that race and class plays a part in teenage pregnancy. Bristol was treated by the abstinence only crowd as Madonna with child, to be worship and value, a role model for every teenage girl.
    Bristol’s jobs as abstinence only advocate after her pregnancy tells us that a rich, white girl can become a teenage mother and still obtain glamour’s life as a spoke model for Candies.
    There are plenty of poor white girls and black’s girls, who did get pregnant as teenagers, and they never got to live the glamour lifestyle that Bristol got.
    I am not demonizing Bristol’s pregnancy but I do seek that Bristol’s race and class help her avoid the hardship and rapid hatred and hostility against teenage mothers.
    The abstinence only crowd promotes a policy of demonizing and hostility against teenage mothers, and use of contraceptives.
    I guess my point is that if Bristol was a poor, white girl or a rich, black girl who got pregnant, she would have been treated like trash.
    I have been on candies website, and the spokes model for abstinence only are usually, rich white girls. If Bristol was a poor white girl, she would have at least been accepted for “choosing life” but she would still be demonize for not being a virgin for her husband.
    If she was a rich black girl, she would have been treated like a piece of dirt that only dogs will lie next too. If she was a poor, black girl, she would have never, ever be a handed a job for Candies.
    Why don’t Candies hire a black, teenage mother as their spoke model for abstinence only? Why is it that when the abstinence only crowds come to talk to people about the “virtues” of being a virgin before marriage, it is usually a white girl, while a black teenage mother is often use as an example of something that one should not become?
    Why are blacks teenage mothers treated like trash, while rich white girls like Bristol Palin are treated as Madonna with child?
    I don’t care that Bristol got pregnant but I was upset that she was treated as Madonna with child by Sarah Palin’s people while at the same time, they talk trash about black teenage mothers sucking up all the money of hardworking white people?

  • Brandi

    I know I probably shouldn’t post this until I’ve stepped away for a minute, but I’ve never been prudent.
    I recently took a break from reading Feministing because I feel there are some glaring problems with some of the commentary. I’m not a cultural feminist, and I know some of the difference is that.
    Still I return to this site to read this comment: “Looks like all those family values indoctrinated via abstinence-only education programs are not working out so well for all the ‘intact’ families of America.”
    Why is there such animosity toward people who choose not to be single or who have children? I live in an intact family. I have a husband, 2 children, and damn it, we’re about to get a dog. I live in a small city. My children have never been in full-time daycare. We’ve worked flex schedules to be with them. We are upper middle-class. We do dance and soccer, and we look for all the world like a Republican poster family. But, guess what? We aren’t!
    My husband and I are both committed progressives who’ve dedicated a good portion of our lives to the service of others. I’m a graduate student in Gender Studies. Our preschoolers know words like “feminist” and “socialist” and understand our family’s values. So, could you *lay off* all of the wrong-headed comments about intact families?
    I know the response will be “well, then she wasn’t talking about you.” That’s a cop-out, though. I feel right now the same way we as feminists feel when people say “feminazi” and then say “well, if it’s not you in particular…” It’s a disingenious way to incite anger, and there’s no real argument to be made.
    With regard to this particular post, I’ve heard as many so-called progressives talk about the plight of young moms in the black community as I have conservatives. In my *actual experience* with homeless women, I’ve seen mostly women who were once middle-class but fell on hard times. I’ve also seen women both far left and far right helping them out.
    I absolutely despise the assumptions here (and elsewhere in the world of progressives) that we all need to think alike, talk alike, and look alike, and that anyone who doesn’t is fair game for ridicule.

  • Lilith Luffles

    It’s as if Bristol Palin and Jamie Lynn Spears are exceptions to “the rule” or something.
    People just don’t want to believe it could happen to them, so they pretend it only happens to people they don’t like in order to pass the buck and justify their prejudices. It’s like killing two birds with one stone!

  • Comrade Kevin

    Absolutely, but whether or not we choose to admit it to ourselves to each other, therein the issue.

  • apricoco

    Not that I don’t agree here. The images of poor, black, and single are the images that many people do agree with. But I’d like to point out that saying that teen pregnancy isn’t an issue of the poor is a little misguided.
    Using the federal poverty level (FPL) to determine whether someone is poor not is a little misguided. The standard says that a family of four is only below the FPL if their cumulative income is below 22K. Even people who aren’t below 22k aren’t middle class, they are still very poor in today’s society. A family of four can barely clothe, house, and feed themselves on 22k. It would have been more illuminating for the study to have been done with a baseline that was a bit higher, say 2x the FPL to give a more accurate measure of poverty.

  • dhistory

    Uh, how old are these people they asked? My mother and her peers had kids as teens. They were married at the time. That was normal then. In fact, teen pregnancy has been falling since its all time high in 1957. It will never go away entirely because a certain percentage of these women want to have kids. Onset age of puberty has fallen. It is a natural phenomena.

  • marie123

    “Looks like all those family values indoctrinated via abstinence-only education programs are not working out so well for all the “intact” families of America.”
    I am fully against abstinence-only education, but I really find the sarcastic tone in the above quote to be inappropriate. If we shouldn’t be demonizing low income minority teens then we shouldn’t be scornfully joking about the teens from conservative backgrounds who end up pregnant as well. Unwanted pregnancies and lack of access to accurate, comprehensive sex ed is a serious issue and one that I think we should approach with thoughtfulness and respect, not smug finger-pointing.

  • prettyinpink

    Are these teen pregnancies or teen motherhoods? Because probably the reason why we have these assumptions is that a lot of those upper-class white women get abortions..

  • A female Marine

    At the bottom of the article was this interesting tidbit: There are any number of reasons why our teens have gotten lazy about birth control, but Mr. Albert believes the No. 1 reason is that teen guys, who never felt like teen pregnancy was their problem anyway, are not nearly as concerned about contracting HIV as they might have been before so many people stopped dying from it.

  • Surreal

    I think the reason for the animosity is that people who are not from “intact” family are tired of hearing that they are screwed up trash from people who got dealt a better hand in life than they did.
    This is what I’ve always heard from people as a young woman who was raised by a single working mother that barely made enough money to put food on the table. I’ve had people treat me like there was no way that I could grow up to be a well adjusted adult that had a good childhood because my father was barely around, my mother had to work, my family was poor and “broken”. There are plently of people like me out there who want to be treated like human beings not creatures to be pitied or thrown out with the trash.

  • TigerLily

    Isn’t it still true that most people living in poverty had children before the age of 21 and didn’t finish high school? So this is still very much a poverty issue in a lot of ways.

  • cebes

    How is this post animosity toward married/family people? It’s against abstinence-only education.
    What are you talking about?

  • MASHBengal

    I’m sorry but the poverty line in my opinion is bull crap. Around 14,000 for a family of 2. In some cities, you’d be lucky to have all your bills paid for if you made that much (and that’s living in the not so great end of town).
    Most of the friends I have had or other people I heard about who are single moms (whether they had children as teen or not) have remained in a situation where they are unable to pay for things. One was having trouble with the city schools and was told she made too much to be appointed a city lawyer. They told her to sell her house (nothing like still paying mortgage, rent and lawyer to drive you deeper into debt). Same woman was told she made too much even to qualify for food stamps. For some reason all these places that told her their equivalent of “F*** off!”, still included the child support as her income, child support she has yet to receive from the father. She may not have been a teen mom, but it shows you how messed up the current system is.

  • cattrack2

    I’ve read that its not just hetero men who feel that way but homosexual men as well. Not having gone through the AIDS crisis of the ’80s & ’90s, and seeing how people can successfully manage the disease the fear factor that drove many people in years past to practice safe sex just isn’t there.
    Of course when abstinence-only programs poo poo condoms as ineffective, they’re being set up for failure from the jump.

  • Phenicks

    You don’t get pregnant by practicing abstinence only you get pregnant by having unprotected sex/sexual contact.
    Bristol was neither poor or without power. Her mother was the GOVERNOR of the state in which she lived. White, Black, or whatever – a teen in that position is going to have a glamorized reality because that experience is almost surreal. How many Governors have unmarried teens who are parents in the history of the country? Not many.
    Abortion is a high likihood for a young pregnant black girl and being rich means its almost a gurantee. People with money are usually people with power. Don’t think black rich people are viewed the same as black poor people by everybody.
    Most teen mothers were never engaged to the father of their child- Bristol Palin was. The reality of her teen pregnancy experience is NOT a common one at all in any aspect.

  • Lilith Luffles

    I think the “intact” thing was supposed to be a play on what most people consider “intact” to be. I’m from an intact family, and this is the way I read it. I don’t think it’s anti-intact families, I think it’s just against the idea that “intact” families are the only ones worth anything and you need a mom and dad and children and money to be “intact.”

  • Brandi

    Uh, yeah, I was born to a single, teen mom. My experiences growing up are much of the motivation for what I do.
    Though you did it without the animosity Samhita shows, you did the same thing – make assumptions about me based on my current family situation.
    One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in real-life activism is that making assumptions about people and reacting to them based on what it seems they should think only serves to alienate people who may otherwise be on your side. I’m still unhappy with what Samhita wrote, and the general tone here opposing intact families, and I *am* a feminist.
    I identified as a feminist in my early teens, and I do now as well. Yet, I don’t want to come here often because of the constant digs at families like mine. What if I weren’t already a feminist? How would snide remarks make me feel? If a feminist’s true goal is to progress the world toward a better place, then bridges have to be built, not burned.

  • TD

    Except to my understanding a disproportionate number of teen pregnancies are the result of older guys. e.g. I’ve heard statistics like the following fairly frequently
    half of the fathers of babies born to women aged 15-17 are 20 years of age or older; in one fifth of the cases, they are at least six years older.

  • Nicole

    If I may, Brandi, I don’t think that Samhita meant for the word “intact” to come across as snarky by using quote marks. I think what she meant was simply to suggest that the idea of one family being more intact than another is wrong. In other words, there’s nothing wrong with being in a nuclear middle-class family, but there’s nothing wrong with not being in one either, so why is the social assumption that only one type is “intact?” I can’t speak for her, but at least that’s how I read it.
    I’m also a white straight woman from an upper-middle-class suburban family, and I understand and sympathize that sometimes you might feel incredible guilt reading progressive blog after blog using snarky terminology to refer to the middle class and the nuclear family unit. However, I really don’t think that any snark was intended in this case, and quite honestly, when snark DOES exist, sometimes we just have to remember that it is usually critiquing the institutions and the social perceptions around them – NOT the individual families that fit the norm.

  • JulieSunday

    two things: one, love makes a family. period. one parent, an aunt and uncle, a grandfather, a sibling, two moms, two dads, whatever the faces look like–a family is defined by love and caring for eachother. the end.
    secondly, the class divide around privacy contribute to our raced perceptions of who gets pregnant/parents as teens. if you don’t have enough money to, say, drive your own car and you take the bus or subway when you’re pregnant or taking your kid around in a stroller, you are more visible.
    as an aside, this post continues the annoying tradition of bloggers reporting on journalists reports of research without actually reading the piece of research in its entirety. the newspaper writer chooses to highlight certain pieces of the study over others; we should all read the whole thing.

  • FLT

    “I think the reason for the animosity is that people who are not from “intact” family are tired of hearing that they are screwed up trash from people who got dealt a better hand in life than they did.”
    Well said.
    As a poor, mixed race teen I had to go to the doctor for a skin condition…the doctor immediately asked if I was pregnant. And while I’m putting words in his mouth there was no mistaking his condescension towards me, and no hiding how poor I was.
    I’m lucky enough to be middle-class now, but work with impoverished teens, and have to deal on a daily basis with prejudices against the ones who got dealt a bad hand.
    I think there is still a Victorian bias that makes people think that the poor must have done something to deserve it. The poor resent that and take it out on the “haves,” thinking the “haves” will never understand their challenges.

  • noalarms

    OH PLEASE, the national campaign is the number-one purveyor of racist, classist, and generally stigmatizing views on young mothers. this is clearly just a weak response to stave off recent criticisms they’ve received from POC organizations.
    if they really wanted to change, maybe their fact sheet on white young mothers shouldn’t start off with eugenics-like racial panic scares about how the white population is diminishing. or keep mentioning welfare expenditures on the fact sheets about young women of color. or talk about how most of the young people who get pregnant are white and stop putting so much energy into getting young women of color to stop reproducing so much.
    please. this thinly-veiled attempt at justice will never be enough. how about getting rid of the prevention framework and starting to support women, young or otherwise, in the reproductive decisions they make?