Why Are Married Teens Having Fewer Babies

Traditionally, teenage women got married, mostly to adult men, to establish a household and to get pregnant or "legitimize" a pregnancy. Yet, census figures showed teen marriage was changing rapidly. Rising numbers of married teens did not live with their spouses, not because of separations but developments possibly related to employment or education. Mothers age 20 and older also trended away from marital childbearing, also for reasons not entirely clear.

The plummet in births by married teens provided a rich area for research ... yet, none of the groups I am aware of chose even to acknowledge it. Nowhere does the National Campaign's Web site mention the astonishing drop in annual marital teen births, from 173,000 in 1990 to 58,000 in 2008 even as unwed teen births increased by 22,000. My contacts with a few luminaries in the field indicated just about no interest, and the reason was painfully obvious. None could figure out how this unexpected trend could contribute to their agendas, and so for their purposes, it did not exist. "Unexpected" generally equates with "threatening" in the privatized social policy world. It would be very difficult to explain why abstinence-until-marriage, school sexuality, welfare reform, and other anti-teen-pregnancy measures proved an astounding 35 times more effective in deterring childbearing among the married teens they did not target than among the unwed teens on which prevention measures were concentrated.

Nor would it be easy for interests, despite vigorous official efforts to strengthen marriage, to explain why strong trends toward unwed parenthood continued unabated among both teens and adults. In fact, one would think welfare reformers, social policy interests, and culture warriors had united to destroy marriage. Given the contrary realities evident in solid vital statistics reports, all interests squared their shoulders and ... resolutely ignored reality. This was yet another crucially important trend that privatized social policy interests simply were not positioned to deal with. Thus, interests dominating "teen pregnancy" discussion effectively banished unwanted realities from media discussion—not by overt conspiracy, but simply because no one would profit from talking about them. Unmoored from rational, scientific discussion, the teen-sex and teen-pregnancy debate has continued its post-1990 drift toward narrowness, unreality, and meanness.

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