Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Dubious Conceptions: The Politics of Teenage Pregnancy

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Dubious Conceptions: The Politics of Teenage Pregnancy

Article excerpt

Dubious Conceptions: The Politics of Teenage Pregnancy. Kristin Luker. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 1996. 283 pp. ISBN 0-674-21702-0. $24.95 cloth.

Kristin Luker widens the lens on the scope of the teenage pregnancy "epidemic" to examine our national assumptions about this phenomenon. She explores related historical developments and presents a compelling thesis that teenage pregnancy is a socially constructed problem. She convincingly builds the argument that teenage pregnancy serves a scapegoat function for societal anxieties about the meaning and purpose of sex for young women, changing gender roles, growing economic disparities, race, poverty, and especially, nonmarital childbearing.

Luker states that both conservative and liberal responses to teenage pregnancy are doomed to fail because they are based on erroneous beliefs about the causes of teenage pregnancy. The conservative stance is a return to abstinence for young people and a restriction of access to AFDC as a disincentive for early childbearing. However, Luker demonstrates the flaws in this position. If benefits are an incentive, why is it that the United States has the highest rate of teenage parenting while it provides the lowest rate of benefits to single mothers among all industrialized countries? Why do states with higher benefits not have higher rates of adolescent pregnancy than states with lower benefits? Why has adolescent nonmarital childbearing increased even as the real value of welfare payments has declined?

The liberal position, that teens will make informed choices if they are given adequate information on sex education and contraceptive use, is also flawed, according to Luker, because the real problem is poverty. Teens who live in poverty and lack opportunity will not feel that there is much to lose by bearing children young. …

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