Beginning Too Soon: Adolescent Sexual Behavior, Pregnancy and Parenthood. A Review of Research and Interventions.. Pregnancy Resolution


When adolescents become unintentionally pregnant they face several difficult choices. About equal proportions of pregnant adolescents have unintended births (37 percent) or induced abortions (35 percent), with smaller percentages of adolescent pregnancies ending in miscarriages or intended births (about 14 percent each). Given their young age and the future implications of these choices, relatives, partners, and friends would be expected to play an important role in adolescents' pregnancy resolution decisions. Studies confirm that parents (especially mothers), and to a lesser extent friends and sexual partners, have significant influences on what pregnant adolescents decide to do. Abortion is a more likely outcome when a pregnant adolescent has a poor relationship with the male who impregnated her. Research findings are inconsistent about whether adoption is influenced by the relationship with the baby's father. Although data on adoption among teens is not available, among never-married women of all ages who have a birth, adoption is a relatively uncommon outcome. Currently, only about two percent of premarital births are relinquished for adoption.

Decisions about abortion, adoption, and parenthood are influenced not only by adolescents' perceptions of what their parents and peers think about their actions, but also by opportunities in their communities. For example, better employment opportunities have been found to be associated with a lower probability of childbearing. While research is inconsistent regarding an hypothesized association between welfare benefit levels at the state level and adolescent birth rates, higher state-level funding for family planning services is associated with lower state-level birth rates. Adolescents who terminate their pregnancies or relinquish their babies for adoption tend to come from higher socioeconomic backgrounds, to have done well in school, and to have higher educational aspirations. In general, adolescents from more advantaged families and communities are less likely to have a birth. In other words, parenthood tends to be avoided by pregnant adolescents who have more concrete and attainable future plans.

With respect to characteristics that differentiate women according to their pregnancy resolution choices, researchers find that those who choose adoption are more likely to be younger, expect to have fewer children, and are less likely to have received AFDC prior to pregnancy. The strongest predictor of choosing to abort is a woman's attitude about abortion. Also, teen females with higher self-esteem have been found to be more likely to terminate their pregnancy, as are teens in states where there is greater access to abortion services. Given pregnancy, the likelihood of marriage versus other alternatives (i.e., abortion or single parenthood) is lower for teens who are Jewish and those with highly educated mothers. Among those with premarital conceptions who gave birth to their first child, young teens and teens with less than a high school education were less likely to marry prior to the birth. However, teen females who live in an intact family are more likely to marry prior to the birth. In general, the fathers tend to be older than the teen mothers. Indeed, two-thirds of the fathers of babies born to teen mothers under age 20 are themselves age 20 or older.

In summary, recent trends in teen pregnancy and childbirth are the results of many factors. Increasing teen birth rates are not due to higher pregnancy rates among sexually active teens, but to increasing levels of sexual activity and decreasing rates of abortion. Once higher levels of sexual activity are taken into account, pregnancy rates are actually declining. Moreover, the propensity to marry is less common. Also, few teens place their babies up for adoption and the proportion who do choose adoption has declined sharply over recent decades.