Shooting Back at Illegitimacy with the Shotgun Wedding

By Fields, Suzanne | Insight on the News, November 18, 1996 | Go to article overview

Shooting Back at Illegitimacy with the Shotgun Wedding


Fields, Suzanne, Insight on the News


It was a giggly moment on the television talk show. The pundit revealed that illegitimacy rates are down since Bill Clinton arrived in the White House. The implication - in its coarse silliness - is that the numbers are down because the prez has been out of action.

It was meant as a joke but it wasn't very funny for several reasons, the first being that illegitimacy is not a laughing matter.

The statistics, though down, still are high. Births to unmarried girls age 15 to 19 dropped to 56.9 births per 1,000 teens, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Births to unmarried women 15 to 44 dropped 4 percent, to 44.9 births per 1,000 women.

No one is quite sure why, but how much higher could they climb? The 1994 data showed unwed childbearing as high as 70 percent for black women, 25 percent for white women and 33 percent for the nation. Black teenage girls make up about 15 percent of teenage girls, and they account for 35 percent of all the teenage mothers.

These high figures provoke a growing debate about the best ways to curtail unwed teenage pregnancies. It's a debate fraught with hazards for the debaters, both conservative and liberal who risk being called naive, prudish, unrealistic and, worst of all judgmental.

Some insist that we "don't blame the victim," as if the mother had nothing to do with it. But there's another victim, the baby, and if these young women don't recognize their responsibilities, they won't avoid a second illegitimate child. Estimates vary, but 80 to 90 percent of births to teenagers are "mistakes," or unplanned pregnancies.

These unwanted children of adolescents suffer low birth weight, have poor health prognoses, diminished mental abilities and educational accomplishment, as well as a host of behaviorial and psychological problems, the most discouraging being the likelihood that the female children will grow up to become unwed teenage mothers themselves, repeating the cycle. …

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