Moving Teenage Parents into Self-Sufficiency: Lessons From Recent Demonstrations. Why Focus on Teenage Parents?

09/01/1998

Despite recent declines in sexual activity, abortion, and birth rates for U.S. teenagers, the number of births remains high.  Nearly one million teenagers become pregnant every year.(1)  In 1996, more than half a million gave birth.  Three-fourths of those who gave birth were not married, and nearly 200,000 were under age 18.(2)  One-fifth had second or higher-order births.(3)  Many of these young mothers face multiple challenges as they enter adulthood and strive for self-sufficiency, and their children grow up with significantly higher risks of poor health, education, and economic outcomes.

Teenage parents are at especially high risk of long-term welfare dependence.  Nearly half of all teenage mothers go on welfare within five years after becoming a parent.  Under the old welfare rules, the majority of those who went on welfare stayed on the rolls for at least two years; many remained on much longer.(4)  Most went on and off welfare more than once, spending an average of 8 to 10 years on the rolls over their lifetimes.(5)  Even though teenage parents made up only a small proportion of welfare recipients at any given time, nearly half of all welfare recipients were single women who had given birth as teenagers.(6)

Teenage childbearing is an important policy concern because it affects not only a mother's life but also her child's.  Research shows that the children of teenage parents are more likely to be in poor health, experience less stimulating and supportive home environments, be abused or neglected, have difficulty in school, become teenage parents themselves, and be incarcerated during young adulthood, when compared with children of older parents.(7)