Teenage Pregnancy and Parenthood: Global Perspectives, Issues and Interventions

By Helen S. Holgate; Roy Evans et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 8
Controversial issues surrounding teen
pregnancy
A feminist perspective

Nancy Shields and Lois Pierce


The social construction of teen pregnancy as a social problem

The term “teenage pregnancy” emerged in middle-class America in the 1970s (Hacking 1999). At the same time, teenage pregnancy, which had been defined as a private problem, was reconstructed as a public problem (Addelson 1999). A greater stigma became attached to teen pregnancy, especially among minorities (Addelson 1999), and the “good girl” who had made a mistake came to be viewed as promiscuous. Kelly (2000) argues that teen mothers have served as scapegoats for negative social trends (such as poverty), and have been stereotyped as “stupid sluts,” rebels, the product of dysfunctional homes, irresponsible, dropouts, and neglectful mothers. Naturally, teen pregnancy occurred at a significant rate before the 1970s, but, when the way society defined teen pregnancy changed, teenagers and their families were expected to change their responses to the pregnancy. As a private problem, pregnancies were something to be ashamed of and hidden. Many teenagers simply married before the child was born, or went into seclusion while pregnant (living in a home for unmarried mothers or with a relative) and ultimately gave the child up for adoption. In more recent times, adoption has become much rarer, with only 5 percent of teenagers giving their babies up for adoption in 1992 (Custer 1993). More current statistics are not available because 1992 was the last year that systematic, national data on adoptions were collected (National Adoption Information Clearinghouse, 2005) in the USA.

The relationship between the social construction of teen pregnancy as a social problem and the actual number of teen births is an interesting one. Childbearing among teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 actually reached an all-time high in 1957 (96 births per 1,000) and declined to an all-time low in 2003, the most recent year for which data are available (42 births per 1,000) (Boonstra 2002; National Center for Health Statistics 2004). The percentage of all live births that were to teenagers rose from 14 percent in 1960 to 19 percent in 1975 (Furstenberg 1991), during the same period that teen pregnancy was being constructed as a social problem. This increase occurred, however, not because of an increase in the birth rate, which actually declined steadily during the 1960s and 1970s, but because of the dramatic increase in the number of teenagers that occurred during that period as a result of the baby boom (the number of young women

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