Females who bear children during their adolescent years appear to differ from those who do not in several ways. A number of characteristics have been implicated: demographic background; peer and family relationships; level of sexual sophistication (accuracy of contraceptive information, attitudes toward sexual activity and pregnancy, sexual history); and self-esteem (Franklin, 1988; McCullough & Scherman, 1991; Williams, 1991). Adolescent pregnancy has been associated with difficulties in the family (Schamess, 1993) and with a number of dysfunctional family traits (Geber & Resnick, 1988; Sandven & Resnick, 1990). Although many individuals are exposed to these risk factors, not all become pregnant. Consequently, there may be other predisposing factors.
Elkes and Crocitto (1987), in a multiple case study of pregnant adolescents, discovered several common family themes: disrupted family structure, strained relationships with parents, physical and emotional abuse by parents, and parental substance abuse. One salient factor found by researchers is lax parental control; for example, being a latchkey child at an early age (Geber & Resnick, 1988; Hogan & Kitagawa, 1985). Adolescent mothers are more likely to have resided, at least for some time, in a nonintact family (Powers, 1993), to have been assigned to foster care, and to have experienced family violence (McCullough & Scherman, 1991; Oz & Fine, 1988). They are also more likely to have experienced the loss of a father or father figure during their formative years (de Anda, Becerra, & Fielder, 1990).
A problematic mother-daughter relationship is another family factor related to adolescent pregnancy (Scott, 1993). The relationship may be characterized by maternal rejection (Sherman & Donovan, 1991), maternal deprivation and inconsistency (Bierman & Bierman, 1985), high maternal dependency needs, and the adolescent's overidentification with a mother who was herself a teenage mother (Copeland, 1981). The pregnant adolescents in Sherman and Donovan's (1991) study reported having no relationship with their mothers, and 65% reported having no social support network. Adolescent mothers also have reported receiving mixed messages from significant others, particularly their mothers, regarding the acceptability of sexual involvement and pregnancy (Evans, 1987). Although research indicates that a troubled maternal relationship is a major predisposing factor, a study by Oz and Fine (1991) found that mothers and sisters were actually viewed more favorably by adolescent mothers than were fathers and brothers. The adolescent mothers almost uniformly held a negative view of males, describing them as alcoholic and violent.
Peer relationships also differentiate adolescents at risk for pregnancy. Adolescent mothers tend to be followers, and to exhibit poor interpersonal communication skills (Trad, 1992).
Emotional involvement and romantic love have been cited by adolescents as reasons for failing to use contraceptives (Scott, 1983). Whitley and Schofield (1985-86), summarizing the results of 134 studies, concluded that the major variables affecting young women's contraceptive use were partner influence on use of contraception, acceptance of one's sexuality, future orientation, positive attitudes toward contraception, an exclusive sexual relationship, and frequency of intercourse. Loewenstein and Furstenberg (1991), examining the "rationality" of teenage sexual and contraceptive behavior, found that a decision-making framework is applicable. However, they discovered that the adolescent females in their study tended to place great weight on some considerations, such as the discomfort of using birth control, and very little on others, such as the effectiveness of birth control or their attitude toward motherhood.
Adolescent mothers have been found to romanticize their dating relationships to a greater extent than do nonmothers (Rosenthal, Muram, & McAlpine, 1993). For many young adolescents, frequency of intercourse correlates with dependency needs (Hall, 1986). Some adolescents become pregnant in the hope of permanently bonding with the partner (Crockenburg & Soby, 1989). In addition, adolescent mothers have reported that hopes of marriage (Anand, 1986) and the desire to have a baby to love are key factors in their decision to keep the child (Lindeman & Scott, 1981).
It would appear that adolescent mothers receive sex education later than do other adolescents (Ralph, Lochman, & Thomas, 1984); however, over 86% reported that they knew about contraception at the time they became pregnant. Further, roughly two-thirds of adolescent mothers have at some time used contraceptives (Ineichen, 1986). In addition, teens who have previously been pregnant are significantly less likely to use contraceptives than are those who have not been pregnant (Kalmuss, 1987). Landry, Bertrand, Cherry, and Rice (1986) studied three groups of sexually active teenage females (136 had children, 92 had aborted, and 151 had never been pregnant) and found that motivation to use contraceptives was the key distinguishing factor between those who became pregnant and those who did not. Two additional elements of adolescent mothers' sexual histories that differentiate them from their peers who do not conceive in adolescence are early physical maturation and age at first coitus (de Anda, Becerra, & Fielder, 1990). Melchert and Burnett (1990), in an investigation of 212 adolescents aged 12-20, found (1) a positive relationship between age at first intercourse and frequency of birth control use; (2) a strong association between high-risk attitudes and unreliable birth control use; (3) no relationship between accurate sexual knowledge and frequency of birth control use; and (4) an inverse relationship between age at first intercourse and pregnancy rate.
Some ethnic and cultural differences have been observed. Furstenberg, Morgan, Moore, and Peterson (1987), using a national sample of …