Teenage Pregnancy and the Welfare Reform Debate
This publication of Issues in Brief addresses the current welfare reform policies for teen mothers that have been formulated in large part based on financial disincentives for childbearing. While it is true that 60% of poor teenagers opt to continue their pregnancies and give birth, they do not get pregnant in order to collect welfare benefits. The profile of a teen mother is much more complex. For a teen parent living in a family with income below the poverty level, there is little hope of a college education, lucrative employment, and a solid marriage. Adolescent women in these households see little reason to postpone childbearing, since their futures look bleak from the outset. In contrast, higher income teens who become pregnant make different choices when they become pregnant. Although teenagers in this 15 to 19 age group make up 62% of all teens, only 17% opt to give birth. This report suggests that the reason is simply that these teens have incentives to postpone childbearing. These incentives include completing education, starting careers, and marriage. If we want to reduce teen pregnancy even further than it has declined in the last decade, what can we do? The answer may not lie in traditional welfare reform disincentives. The solution may lie in pregnancy prevention through family planning services, increased funding for abortion services, and guaranteed education and training that will enable women to get good jobs and promising careers. We need to give these low income teens the same incentives to wait. We need to give them hope for the future.