Illegitimacy -- Not Teen Pregnancy -- Is the Story

Carol Platt Liebau

4/1/2013 7:32:51 PM - Carol Platt Liebau

The WaPo's Sarah Kliff thinks we are "in the midst of a big public health success story" because teen births and pregnancies are down 42% since 1990.

At the risk of being the skunk at Ms. Kliff's garden party, I would suggest that her optimism is, perhaps, misplaced.  When most people deplore a high teen pregnancy or birth rate, they are not upset about reproducing teens who are happily married -- working, and/or with a spouse that is.

Rather, when one invokes the term "teen pregnancy," the image that springs to mind is of a young, poor, unwed mother whose children will have diminished chances in life.  As the CDC cogently puts it:

At one time, references to births to unmarried women and births to teenagers were considered one and the same only because births to unmarried women were disproportionately, although certainly not exclusively, among teenagers.

That's no longer the case.  But illegitimacy has skyrocketed; more than half of all births to American women under 30 are to unmarried mothers.  

So before you get carried away a la Ms. Kliff, keep in mind that it's illegitimacy -- not teen birth or pregnancy -- that actually seems to bring with it the host of social ills once associated with "teen childbearing."  Regardless of race, poverty rates are higher among single-mother families.  Children of single mothers are more likely to commit crimes.  They are are more likely to suffer from emotional and behavioral problems. And -- so much for the "public health success story"! -- children of single mothers are more likely to suffer from health problem.

Other than that, of course, the news is all good, right?