Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ramblings about Teen Pregnancy, STEM and Poverty

In a recent conversation with a few friends (both male and female) we noticed that some people don’t completely understand the fact that daughters of teenage mothers have an increased risk of having children as teens themselves. Nor do those people grasp the potential effect of perpetual teenage motherhood on the teen mother’s community or on the United States as a whole. I guess the opportunity to witness perpetuating inter-generational cycles of poverty and poor education up close doesn’t present itself to everyone. But, for those who have seen this cycle in action - and understand it’s ramifications - it’s hurtful to observe.

The fact that daughters of teenage mothers have an increased risk of having children as teens themselves hinders the United States’ ability to contribute additional productive and successful professionals to the global community. This is especially true in a time when the president is calling for more women to enter STEM education/professions in the United States yet; the United States has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the industrialized world.

If only 38% of mothers who have a child before the age of 18 obtain a high school diploma, and only 2% complete college by the age of 30[1], one could argue that there are way too many potential STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) professionals, business leaders, and innovators being left behind because they are too busy struggling to put food on the table to complete their own education and reach their professional potential.

More specifically, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, teenage mothers typically receive less than $800 a year from absent teen fathers. Teen mothers are also less likely to finish school, more likely to be incarcerated and more likely to earn minimum wage. Which means the majority of teenage mothers are not founding lucrative startups, or becoming CEO’s of STEM-related Fortune 500 companies. They are instead often taking menial jobs and following some of the same behaviors their parent/parents did.

President Obama’s Friday Facts: Women and Girls in Stem fact sheet[2] states “increasing the number of smart, talented women who pursue STEM-related careers is key to creating jobs and keeping America on the edge of innovation.”

But, how do we get the three-quarters of a million teens between 15 and 19 that become pregnant each year to reach the status of “smart and talented”?

How many teenage mothers are there?

According to the Center for Disease control, one-third of girls get pregnant before the age of 20. As stated on a site managed by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy,, there are "750,000 teen pregnancies annually. Eight in ten of these pregnancies are unintended and 81 percent are to unmarried teens."[3]

Are there any successful Children of Teenaged Mothers[4]?

Not all children of teen mothers are doomed to live out their life in lower socio-economic status. Child entertainers like Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez are two examples of successful offspring of teen mothers.

Unfortunately, however, statistics show us that Bieber and Gomez are exceptions. The average income of a U.S. teenage mom is $23,000 and short of having their children discovered on You Tube or receiving a larger salary for being cast in MTV’s Teen Mom, $23,000 is pretty accurate and up to date. According to the National Women’s Law Center[5] recent poverty statistics yield sobering poverty rates and extreme poverty rates amongst women in 2010.

More specifically female poverty in the U.S. is the highest it has been in 17 years at 14.5 percent last year, up from 13.9 percent in 2009. While the “extreme poverty rate” climbed to 6.3 percent in 2010 from 5.9 percent in 2009 among women (which was the highest ever recorded).

What do folks on twitter think about pregnancy and poverty?

At 9:06 am on October 28, 2011 @TheMamaFesto (aka Avital Nathman) tweeted More from @MotherWoman centerpieces "Becoming a mother is the single leading indicator of poverty for women in the US. WHY?" #MWBrkfst”.

Now after you cut through all the twitter-ese and the hashtags you find a very interesting question, if you believe becoming a mother is the single leading indicator of poverty for women in the US, why is that true?





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