Internal Poverty and Teen Pregnancy

By Young, Tamera M.; Martin, Sue S. et al. | Adolescence, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview
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Internal Poverty and Teen Pregnancy

Young, Tamera M., Martin, Sue S., Young, Michael E., Ting, Ling, Adolescence


The subjects for the present study were drawn from the female students who participated in the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS) initial eighth-grade data collection. Adolescent females who later became pregnant were matched on race, birth month, and birth year with adolescent females who did not report a pregnancy. The study examined selected predictor variables from the baseline 1988 wave of data in relation to the outcome variable of pregnancy status. Results indicated a statistically significant difference in locus of control between those females who later became pregnant and those who later did not experience a pregnancy during adolescence. Those who later became pregnant were much more likely to have an external locus of control (p = .0001). Females who later became pregnant were also more likely to have a poorer sense of personal efficacy (p = .0001). Finally, females who later experienced a teen pregnancy had more traditional occupational expectations (p = .006) and lower educational expec tations (p = .001) than did those who did not later report a teen pregnancy.

Adolescent childbearing has negative effects on the adolescent, the offspring, and society in general (Roosa, Fitzgerald, & Carlson, 1982; Elster, Lamb, Peters, Kahn, & Tavare, 1987; Donovan & Jessor, 1985; Mott & Haurin, 1988; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1995). Research examining predisposing factors in adolescent childbearing has frequently been restricted to correlational studies, often even in the context of confounding enrichment programs. Thus, there is a great need to (1) identify the underlying factors that precede teen pregnancy and (2) address these factors in programs designed to reduce adolescent childbearing. The present study sought to examine the roots of adolescent childbearing using data acquired prior to pregnancy. Specifically, it explored the relationship between internal poverty (low educational and occupational aspirations, poor personal efficacy, and external locus of control) and adolescent pregnancy.


Perceived Self-Efficacy and Locus of Control

This study is heavily rooted is Bandura's (1994) self-efficacy theory. Self-efficacy is defined as a person's beliefs about his or her ability to attain particular goals. It has been found to impact the coping ability and behaviors of the individual (Bandura, 1994).

This theory centers around three processes and three types of motivation. Efficacy-activating processes include cognitive, motivational, and affective processes (Bandura, 1994). Self-efficacy is believed to influence motivation--including causal attributions, outcome expectancies, and cognized goals. Self-efficacy influences causal attributions in that those who see themselves as efficacious attribute failure to lack of effort, while those who see themselves as inefficacious attribute failure to low ability. Efficacy influences outcome expectancy in that behavior is influenced by beliefs concerning personal capabilities and not just the expected outcomes of a behavior. Goal setting, another tool for enhanced motivation, is also influenced by perceived self-efficacy in several ways. Bandura asserts that efficacy determines the goals people set for themselves, how much effort they expend, how long they persevere in the face of barriers, and their resilience to failure. Efficacy also influences affective process es--those regulating emotional states and reactions such as stress, anxiety arousal, and depression (Bandura, 1994).

Another theoretical construct that is relevant for this study is locus of control (Rotter, 1975)--the degree to which individuals believe they have control over events in their lives versus the degree to which they believe they are victims of fate or external circumstances. Individuals with an external locus of control fail to see a connection between personal behavioral choices, well-being, and quality of life.

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