How do we know if the drop in teen pregnancy is good news?

In my latest column for RH Reality Check I talk about the recent news from the CDC that the teen pregnancy rate in the US continues its decline to historic lows across all racial and ethnic groups.

Changes in teen pregnancy rates are always greeted with much media attention, and the narrative tends to be consistent: teen pregnancy and parenting is bad and should be prevented.

I’ve written before about why this is the seductive narrative underneath teen pregnancy prevention: stop kids from having kids, and improve high school drop out rates, poverty, etc. But of course when you dig more you learn that it’s not so clear that teen pregnancy is the cause of these outcomes. It may just be correlated because many teen parents were already at a higher risk for poverty, dropping out of high school, etc.

All of this to say that a drop in teen pregnancy does not necessary mean a drop in the negative outcomes generally associated with teen pregnancy. Some of those teens who would have been parents who are no longer becoming parents (likely because of better access to birth control) might still end up living in poverty, lack access to decent education, face health challenges.

We can’t celebrate a drop in the teen pregnancy rate unless it’s accompanied by statistics showing that young people are doing better overall–particularly those more likely to become teen parents. Perhaps we could celebrate if it came alongside news that low-income parents, parents of color, immigrant parents were all experiencing improved socioeconomic conditions, better education for their kids, easier routes toward income security.

Unfortunately the larger economic forecast doesn’t demonstrate any of these things. Instead, we see the gap between rich and poor widening. We see greater difficulty with job security, increased homelessness, mounting health challenges.

People love to celebrate or fear monger about how many teens are parenting but it’s just a distraction from the real questions for our society to grapple with: how to make sure all young people have access to the tools and services they need to guarantee a successful future.

And on that question I’m not celebrating yet.

Read the whole column here.


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