Teenage pregnancy is one of the major problems that the federal, state and local governments are facing. The scope of the teen pregnancy problem can hardly be overstated. This paper describes the scope of the problem and determines the extent of its impact on the U.S. In addition, sociological explanations to the problem of teen pregnancy are provided. The Rational Choice Theory (RCT) and Wilson’s social isolation perspective are used to identify and evaluate possible causes of teenage pregnancy in the country. Implications for policymaking and future research are provided.
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Keywords: teenage pregnancy, teen, United States, sociological.
Social Problems Facing Contemporary US
Teenage pregnancy remains one of the major social problems facing contemporary United States. For many years, the U.S. has been at the forefront of the teenage pregnancy race in the developed world. In 2006 alone, nearly 750,000 young women, aged below 20, became pregnant in the U.S. (Guttmacher Institute, 2010). Before that, between 1991 and 2005, the rates of adolescent childbirth in the U.S. had reduced by one-third (Ventura, Mathews, Hamilton, Sutton & Abma, 2011). Between 2005 and 2007, however, the rates of childbirth in adolescents started to increase (Ventura et al., 2011). Despite these variations, the United States remains the country with the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the developed world. Moreover, it is too early to say that the recent decline in teenage pregnancy rates is a long-term change. The situation with teenage pregnancy in the U.S. is far from being stable, and it has a huge impact on the quality of social life in America.
The extent of the teenage pregnancy problem in the U.S. is difficult to overestimate. Apart from the huge financial costs caused by unintended pregnancy during adolescence, the teenage pregnancy phenomenon has far-reaching health and social implications. According to statistics, almost every fifth teenage girl who gets pregnant will face another pregnancy within 1 year, and 25% of all abortions in the U.S. are made to women younger than 20 years (Anonymous, 1994). “Two negative consequences of teenage child bearing are the greater likelihood of maternal and child health complications, and the requirement of government expenditures of over $25 billion in 1990 for social, health, and welfare services” (Anonymous, 1994, p.4). In this situation, sociological theories can shed some light on the reasons that lead to the high prevalence of teen pregnancy in the U.S.
Two sociological perspectives help to understand why adolescent girls in the U.S. get pregnant so often. Rational Choice Theory (RCT) has the potential to explain the complexity of the teenage pregnancy problem in America. RCT is built up on three assumptions: first, individuals are free to make personal decisions; second, individuals naturally strive to achieve the most optimal personal outcomes; and third, in all their actions and decisions, individuals are concerned primarily with their own well-being and welfare (Abell, 1996). Based on the RCT, teenage pregnancy is the rational choice made by adolescent girls in their search of stability and better welfare. Teenagers may face peer pressures or develop the fear of losing their boyfriend (partner), but pregnancy is still a better option for them than having an abortion or delaying pregnancy to the later stages of life (Abell, 1996). It should be noted, however, that RCT interprets teen pregnancy as the rational choice made by adolescent girls in difficult socioeconomic conditions. As a result, these are not the peer pressures or fears of losing the partner, but tough economic conditions that are at the heart of the teen pregnancy problem.
Difficult socioeconomic conditions also create the basis for the development of Wilson’s social isolation argument. According to Wilson (1987), changes in the socioeconomic and demographic conditions lead to the emergence of areas with a high level of poverty. In these “socially isolated” areas, ghetto-related behaviors and cultural traits dominate (Wilson, 1987). This is where most of the social problems, including the one of teenage pregnancy, are also concentrated. The social isolation model suggests that adolescents living in high poverty neighborhoods have no role models to demonstrate appropriate sexual behaviors and teach them the fundamentals of family formation. They are also deprived in terms of access to quality education and decent jobs (Wilson, 1987). As a result, social isolation cuts poor adolescent girls from the economic and educational resources required to enhance their life options. From the viewpoint of both the RCT and social isolation models, socioeconomic difficulties and inequalities predispose high rates of teenage pregnancy in America. Therefore, not sexual education or abstinence ideals, but better economic conditions should become a strategic priority in the country’s fight against the teen pregnancy problem.
Teenage pregnancy is one of the central social problems facing the U.S. As of today, the U.S. has the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in the developed world. Sociological theories shed some light on the complexity of the teen pregnancy problem. RCT and the social isolation model suggest that socioeconomic difficulties are the main cause of teen pregnancy in the U.S. Therefore, not sexual education or abstinence values, but better economic conditions should become the country’s top priority in its fight against the problem of teen pregnancy.
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