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New York City’s latest teen pregnancy “prevention”campaign is taking us in the wrong direction–not only in terms of its shame and blame approach and its shameless use of children–but also in terms of direction of causality. The causal claims made about the disastrous “consequences” of teen childbearing are a misleading and selective use of research. This site is an attempt to set the record straight about these so-called “facts” about teen childbearing.

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Exhibit A

Exhibit A

This ad, which has been widely covered in the news media, is perhaps the most blatant misuse of statistics of all of the ads. Its message that children are less likely to graduate BECAUSE they were born to teen mothers is simply not a fact. There is a correlation–one that is more likely about poverty and access than about teen childbearing itself–but there is no evidence of causality.

Here’s the actual (more nuanced) research finding:

“43% of children of a teen mom (age 17 or under) fail to graduate high school by age 19
compared to 20% who fail if their mother was over age 22 when she gave birth.”

Source: Manlove, Terry-Humen, Mincieli, and Moore (2008). Outcomes for Children of Teen mothers from Kindergarten through Adolescence. In S. Hoffman and R. Maynard (Eds.) Kids Having Kids: Economic and Social Consequences of Teen Pregnancy (pp. 161-196). Washington, D.C. The Urban Institute Press.

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Exhibit B

Exhibit B

Perhaps this adorable little girl is wondering how many NON-TEEN parents actually marry each other, or perhaps she’s wondering what happened to the rest of this research finding.

Here’s the actual research finding:

Child Trends Facts at a Glance, 2005 cited data from the Fragile Families and Child Well-being Study that less than 8% of teen mothers marry their baby’s father within a year of the birth. 

That little “within a year of the birth” thing seems kinda important, huh? By the way, it’s also a fact that many children can read. Many of them will likely read these ads on buses and subways–I can only imagine how those children of teen parents will feel.

Source: Child Trends, Fact at a Glance, 2005, using data from the Fragile Families and Child Well-being Study.

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Exhibit C

Exhibit C

I’ll show this one to my dad, who was 32 when I was born. I suspect he will say, “Yup, that’s true. What the hell does that have to do with being a TEEN parent?”

Male bashing aside, this one happens to be true. Being a parent, at any age, will indeed cost you. Let’s see how well this one works to prevent any pregnancies.

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Exhibit D

Exhibit D

How did this one pass the “Duh” test during focus group testing for this campaign? Is there actually a teen (or human being) out there that thinks being a parent won’t cost them?

A way cooler ad would say: “Want a good job? Text GOODJOB to be matched with a decent, living wage job.” I haven’t seen one like that yet. If it’s out there though, let me know!

Source: Lino, M. (2012). Expenditures on Children by Families, 2011. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. Miscellaneous Publication No. 1528-2011.

Here’s how the campaign describes this original source:

“They provide a variety of estimates that vary based on geography, family income, family
structure, and age of children, but all are in the several thousands of dollars or more range.
Estimates are based on Consumer Expenditure Survey data, US Bureau of Labor Statistics.”

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Statistics Soup

Statistics Soup

And finally, the piece de resistance. The number of commas in this ad alone suggests that quite a few conditions apply.

This one actually makes me the saddest, because it suggests that all of our teens in NYC have access to high quality education and good job prospects. It suggests that these teens are simply forgoing all of the opportunities that are waiting for them and blowing it all by having a baby as a teen. Once again, we let ourselves and our politicians off the hook by blaming these teens for ruining their otherwise promising life trajectories, failing to acknowledge our responsibility as a society to provide them with meaningful alternatives and real opportunity.

It’s worth noting that the research they are drawing upon comes from a Brookings Institution book by Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill titled, “Creating an Opportunity Agenda.” The book focuses on how public policy should focus on expanding economic opportunity.

And here’s the actual research finding:

“those who finish high school, work full time, and marry before having children” have a 98% chance of not being in poverty.

Source: Haskins, R. & Sawhill, I. (2009). Our Vision: In Haskins, R. & Sawhill, I. (Eds.) Creating an Opportunity Society (p. 9). Washington D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.

Here’s another quote from the author description of the book:

“Some might think that America already presents people with lots of opportunity to get ahead. But it turns out that you need to pick your parents well. True, there is considerable mobility from one generation to the next, but the American economy tends to help those at the top stay there while making it difficult for those at the bottom to move up. Kids from families in the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution are nearly five times as likely to wind up in the bottom 20 percent as kids from families in the top 20 percent.”

 

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