Differences in Adolescent Self-Concept as a Function of Race, Geographic Location, and Pregnancy

By Pete-McGadney, Joanette | Adolescence, Spring 1995 | Go to article overview

Differences in Adolescent Self-Concept as a Function of Race, Geographic Location, and Pregnancy


Pete-McGadney, Joanette, Adolescence


Extent of the Problem

Adolescent pregnancy is widely recognized in our society as one of the most complex and serious health problems. Each year over 600,000 adolescent girls become parents (National Research Council, 1987). Part of the reason for the high rate of teenage pregnancy is that adolescents are becoming sexually active at younger ages; each year almost 30,000 of teenage parents are under the age of 15 (Trussell, 1988).

Within this group there is a disproportionately high number of African-American teenage parents. African-American adolescents account for 14% of the teenage population, but they account for 28% of all births and 47% of all births to unmarried teenagers (Edelman & Pittman, 1986; Height, 1986). Further, the prospects for a healthy and productive life are drastically reduced for these parents and their infants. Typically, the teenage mother is at risk of undergoing a complicated pregnancy and poor birth outcome. The children of these mothers also face greater health and developmental risks.

The unprecedented rise in adolescent pregnancies over the past decade has brought to the forefront health care providers, educators, and public policy makers. Since there is no single approach or quick fix for all the problems of adolescent pregnancy, comprehensive studies are needed - studies which identify contributing factors that are common among individuals, families, and communities. In addition, solutions that promote positive social, economic, health, and developmental outcomes for adolescent parents and their children must be sought.

Review of the Literature

Basically, self-concept is a psychological dimension that tells how good we feel about ourselves. It is a crucial factor in determining the nature of human behavior (Hayakawa, 1963) that is solidified in adolescence (Neel, Jay, & Litt, 1985). Self-concept has been shown to be a relatively stable personality trait from adolescence onward (Offer, Ostrov, & Howard, 1981; Engel, 1959; Vaillant & McArthur, 1972).

Many sociocultural factors have important effects on individual development. Social status (as it is mediated by race, ethnicity, income, religion, and geographic residence) shapes cultural values which, in turn, affect the way individuals view themselves and are viewed by others. According to Chilman (1983), culture evolves from the life history and experiences of a group and the group's attempt, over time, to adapt to its environment. Elder (1980) also believes the developing individual is imbued with the values, norms, beliefs, and expectations of his or her social reference group.

Factors consistently found to be associated with high pregnancy rates among teenagers are low socioeconomic status, black race, family instability, and peer expectations (Walters, Walters, & McKenry, 1987). Although these variables may characterize a high-risk population, they provide little assistance in identifying specific teenagers at risk for sexual involvement and pregnancy prior to an actual unplanned pregnancy.

Several authors have studied various aspects of self-concept as a potential indicator of high-risk for adolescent pregnancy; for example, self-concept in adolescent mothers (Horn & Rudolph, 1987); self-concept in pregnant adolescents (Patten, 1981); self-concept and sexual decision-making in pregnant adolescents (Pete, 1989); sociocultural factors in adolescent pregnancy (Alvarez, Burrows, Zvaighat, & Muzzo, 19887); psychosocial factors in particular ethnic groups (Oritz & Nuttall, 1987; Pass, 1986); and self-concept of younger vs. older pregnant adolescents (Pete, 1990).

Pete (1989) found the overall self-concept score of black pregnant adolescents to be low when compared to nonpregnant adolescents. However, in another study, the author found that even though the mean scores were low when compared to nonpregnant adolescents, the scores of younger (13 to 15 years old) and older (16 to 19 years) black pregnant adolescents to be almost identical (Pete, 1990).

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