Of course, some teenagers have sex, and a fraction of these teens get pregnant. So do Missourians, Rastafarians, and people whose last names start with C. Individuals born on Monday account for a shocking one in seven unwed pregnancies, abortions, and sexually transmitted diseases. We might as well single out any or all identifiable groups for stigma and intervention.
It is also true, on average, that babies born to mothers younger than 18 have worse outcomes than those born to mothers ages 18 to 34—but so do babies born to Louisianans, African, Native, and Hispanic Americans, low-income mothers of all ages and races, and Americans in general compared to parents in other Western countries. If it is age we are hung up on, then so do mothers and fathers age 40 and older, whose rapidly rising procreation is producing epidemics of exorbitantly costly maternal complications, babies born with chromosomal abnormalities (8 to 25 times higher than among mothers age 15 to 24), and long-term child deficits.7 But when have you seen a national campaign to stigmatize and prevent middle-aged pregnancy?
Scientific rankings regarding which groups cause the most "social problems" by objective criteria would bring justifiable howls of racism, classism,
*I realize that installing quotes around "teenage sex" and "teen pregnancy" to denote their artificiality quickly becomes irritating. I'll dispense with the punctuation, though I contend that these terms are popular euphemisms rather than accurate descriptors.
regional bigotry, and ageism (against older parents). Economic analysis that apportions the gigantic taxpayer bailouts and public losses resulting from corporate malfeasance, costs of white collar crime, and the impact of over-consumption on environmental degradations such as climate change in the same way social-cost studies now apportion crime and welfare costs to teenage mothers would find the costliest babies on earth are those born to affluent, white American grownups.
When I contend teenage sex and teen pregnancy do not exist as distinct behaviors, I mean they are simply straight-line products of the sexual and reproductive behaviors of their societies in general and of the numbers of young people our private and public disbursement systems consign to poverty and deficient opportunity. European, Latin American, and Asian nations have seen sharply reduced rates of births by mothers younger than 20, more rapidly and to lower levels than occurred in the United States, due to their economies and social policies opening up more opportunities to young people and without our vitriolic attacks on teen behaviors.
To complete the adult-teen connection, approximately 450,000 of the 750,000 pregnancies among teenage females every year involve adult men age 20 and older. (As just one example of the primitive sexism of the terminology, no one calls the 100,000 or so annual pregnancies involving teenage males and women 20 and older "teen pregnancies.") More than 70 percent of births and at least 60 percent of total pregnancies among girls age 19 and younger involve male partners age 20 and older.8 We might as well call it "adult preg-nancy"—or, at least, "adult-teen pregnancy." Yet, no interest group publicizes statements such as, "The rate of American adult men impregnating teenagers is twice as high as is found among Canadian adult men and six times higher than among Japanese and German adult men " Rather, the presentation of teen pregnancy reflects both traditional sexism of blaming females for unwanted fertility and America's disturbing legacy of singling out society's least powerful groups—in this case, younger girls—to blame for social and moral problems.
How, then, did pregnancy among teenaged females, among all the potentially stigmatizable groups, wind up being singled out as a cataclysmic social problem, and why do we label an adult-teen phenomenon a "teenage" problem solely because of the age of the female? The answer, this chapter will argue, is not edifying: because we can. Since most adult populations have acquired the power to fight back against prejudice, young people represent one of the few scapegoats left for privatized social policy entrepreneurs safely to attack.
Is today's furor over "teen pregnancy" entirely contrived, then? In one sense, no. There are distinct adolescent reproductive health issues, just as there are for older ages. Adults could play a more positive role, but we choose not to. Fortunately, young people today have available a vast, largely unregulated Internet medium in which they can find information and communicate about sexual issues from a variety of standpoints. The rest of this chapter details the argument that "teen pregnancy" is not "teenage," but simply the predictable result of the adult-imposed conditions millions of teenagers face.
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