Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Teenage Pregnancy and Female Educational Underachievement: A Prospective Study of a New Zealand Birth Cohort

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Teenage Pregnancy and Female Educational Underachievement: A Prospective Study of a New Zealand Birth Cohort

Article excerpt

This paper examines the relationship between teenage pregnancy and educational underachievement in a cohort of 520 young women studied from birth to 21 years. Results showed that young women who became pregnant by the age of 18 years were at increased risk of poor achievement in the national School Certificate examinations, of leaving school without qualifications, and of failing to complete their sixth form year at high school. In addition, pregnant teenagers had lower rates of participation in tertiary education and training than their nonpregnant peers. Subsequent analyses showed that the links between teenage pregnancy and tertiary educational participation were largely noncausal and reflected the earlier academic ability, behavior, and family circumstances of young women who became pregnant. In contrast, antecedent child and family factors only partially explained associations between teenage pregnancy and high school participation and achievement. After adjustment for these factors, significant associations remained between teenage pregnancy and educational achievement at high school. An examination of the diverse life histories of young women who became pregnant

revealed that for the majority of young women, pregnancy occurred after they had left school before finishing. These findings suggest that rates of teenage pregnancy might be elevated among young women who leave school early, rather than rates of early school leaving being elevated among young women who become pregnant during their teenage years.

Key Words: academic achievement, adolescence, early adulthood longitudinal study, teenage pregnancy,

In recent years there has been growing public, professional, and scientific concern about the ef fects of teenage pregnancy on young women and their offspring (for reviews see Brooks-Gunn & Chase-Lansdale, 1995; Coley & Chase-Lansdale, 1998; Furstenberg, Brooks-Gunn, & Chase-Lansdale, 1989; Hechtman, 1989). As part of this concern, interest has focused on the extent to which early pregnancy and childbirth might disrupt the education and future life opportunities of young women. Growing evidence now exists to suggest that, compared to women who do not become pregnant early, teenage mothers are more likely to experience a range of personal and social disadvantages, including early school leaving, educational underachievement, socioeconomic disadvantage, welfare dependence, single parenthood, and marital instability (Black & DeBlassie, 1985; Brooks-Gunn & Chase-Lansdale, 1995; Butler, 1992; Card & Wise, 1978; Furstenberg et al., 1989; Furstenberg, Brooks-Gunn, & Morgan, 1987; Hardy, Welcher, Stanley, & Dallas, 1978; Hoffman, Foster, & Furstenberg, 1993; Klepinger, Lundberg, & Plotnick, 1995; Maynard, 1995; Moore, 1978; Moore, Myers, Morrison, Nord, Brown, & Edmonston, 1993; Upchurch & McCarthy, 1990). For example, a 12-year follow-up study of 2,795 women by Klepinger et al. (1995) found that young women who gave birth to their first child before the age of 20 years completed fewer years of schooling than young women who did not give birth during this time. This association persisted after differences in women's personal and social backgrounds were taken into account using an instrumental variables approach. Given these findings, Klepinger et al. concluded, that after control for both observed and unobserved differences among women, early childbearing reduced the educational attainment of pregnant young women by one to three years.

There are at least two possible explanations for the poorer educational outcomes and constrained life opportunities of teenage mothers. First, it could be proposed that this relationship reflects a direct cause-and-effect association in which teenage pregnancy and early motherhood disrupt the educational progress and school commitment of young women, which in turn limits their future educational and employment opportunities. …

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