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|dajoki (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore||Mon Feb-04-08 11:56 PM
|Policy makers got it wrong on teen pregnancy and poverty|
This news article is a courtesy to ezTaxReturn.com customers.
30-Year-Study: teen poverty, not teen motherhood, perpetuates poverty
CHICAGO, Jan. 23 (AScribe Newswire) -- In fairy tales, there are two possible outcomes for a young girl. In the Disney version, the handsome prince rescues her, then marries her, and everyone lives happily ever after. In the dark version, the heroine makes a dreadful mistake that leads to disaster. For the past 15 years, political pundits have been telling us a dark fairy tale about American teens, blaming America's high poverty rates on the actions of teenage girls who have babies out of wedlock. This assumption guided the welfare reform act of 1996, which promised to write America a happy ending by getting teens to stop having babies, get married, and thus end poverty.
But a new longitudinal study by Frank Furstenberg (University of Pennsylvania) shows that fairy tales have no place in the realm of policy-making. His data reveal that teen childbearing is NOT the reason that many Americans have been trapped in poverty over the past three decades. In a discussion paper prepared for the 11th annual conference of the Council on Contemporary Families, Furstenberg reports that
- teen motherhood tends to occur among people ALREADY trapped in poverty
-postponing motherhood does not make much of a difference to people's chances of escaping poverty.
-impoverished girls who bear children as teens do almost as well educationally and economically -- or as poorly -- as the girls who postpone childbearing.
Preventing and reducing teen pregnancy is a valuable social goal, says CCF Fellow Furstenberg. In fact the United States had a dramatic decline in teen pregnancies--and abortions--from 1991 to 2005. But, using observations from his Baltimore study, and supplementing it with current reports from demographers, economists, and demographers, sociologist Frank Furstenberg reminds us that the phrase, "it's the economy, stupid" is not yet out of date. For details and policy recommendations, please read Furstenberg's full briefing report, below, or at www.contemporaryfamilies.org
No Silver Bullet:
New 30-Year Study Shows that Preventing Teenage Childbearing Won't Cure Poverty
A discussion paper prepared for the 11th annual conference of the Council on Contemporary Families(University of Illinois, April 25-26, 2008) by Frank F. Furstenberg, Zellerback Family Professor of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania
The United States, one of the richest nations in the world, has higher poverty rates than any advanced Western country other than the former Soviet Union. It also has higher rates of teen births, especially unwed teen births. Many policy-makers believe that the first situation is a direct result of the second. They argue that if we could only reduce teen births, and get young women who do give birth to marry, we could substantially reduce poverty and the need for public assistance programs, which are often thought to reinforce social inequality by giving incentives to young women to bear more children and become permanently dependent on government handouts.
However, a new body of research, including my own long-term study described below, reveals that this is not true. Beginning in 1991, teen childbearing declined steadily and steeply for 15 years in a row, as teens began to practice contraception more effectively. But the rapid fall in teenage childbearing that occurred from 1991 to 2005 did not improve the life prospects of disadvantaged youth as they entered adulthood. Socioeconomic inequality did decline in the boom years of the late 1990s, but with little effect on the fortunes of the poorest of the poor. And by 1991, poverty and income inequality were once more on the rise, reaching highs not seen in more than 30 years.
I recently completed the analysis of my three-decade-long study chronicling the lives of more than 300 teen mothers from Baltimore. I first interviewed these women in the mid-1960s and then followed their lives, along with their first-born children, over the next 30 years, in one of the longest running studies in American social science. Their experiences reveal a surprising fact: Early childbearing was not the main cause of the economic difficulties these women faced in their lives, and did not trap them in welfare dependence for the rest of their lives. Having a child as a teen, which most policymakers believe to be a powerful source of disadvantage, had only modest effects on their educational and economic achievement in later life, after taking into account their economic circumstances prior to becoming pregnant. The teen mothers in Baltimore did better than most observers would have predicted in continuing their education, and did not fare substantially worse than their counterparts who postponed parenthood until their twenties.
The families that I followed in Baltimore were formed long before the movement to reform the welfare system. Over two thirds of the young mothers spent some time on public assistance, but I could find no evidence that being on welfare for limited periods interfered with women's prospects of doing well in later life or hampered the well-being of their children. Most used public assistance to get back on their feet rather than as a form of permanent support. They typically used the support that they received to return to school or invest time in childrearing when their children were young. When their offspring went to school, they entered the labor force. The minority of women who became chronic recipients of welfare women -- roughly one in six - tended to suffer from long-term disabilities such as mental illness, substance abuse, or learning problems, and had limited family support to help them cope.
Marriage promotion, a signature policy of the Bush Administration, is another policy that can produce unintended and adverse effects when impoverished single mothers are encouraged to wed their partners. No doubt, children in stable and secure marriages fare better than those whose parents do not remain together. However, when I examined the life history of women who married the father of their children in the Baltimore study, I discovered that only a minority of the women (about 20 percent who wed the father of their children and 10 percent who married someone other than the father) remained wed throughout the children's lives. Even if we convince teenage couples that they should marry if the girl becomes pregnant, this does not mean they will stay together for the long haul. Divorce rates are twice as high among impoverished and poorly-educated couples as among more affluent and educated Americans. And when impoverished couples enter unions that later break up, the women often end up worse off economically than if they had never married, while their children are exposed to the added risks of marital conflict and multiple transitions in living arrangements.
These are but two examples of a fundamental mismatch between social policy and social realities in the United States. A 2007 report issued by UNICEF ranked the United States second from the bottom among twenty-one Western nations in the material well-being, health and safety, educational performance, family relationships, social behavior, and subjective well-being of its total population. The United States has long invested less in programs to ameliorate social inequality and fight poverty than those other nations, and the tax relief provided to high-income households in the early years of the Bush administration set the stage for later cutbacks in social programs for less advantaged Americans. In the industrialized world, America stands out as a land of unequal opportunities for children.
Focusing primarily on preventing teen pregnancy and parenthood has not proved to be an effective strategy for eliminating social disadvantage, promoting educational and occupational achievement, or fostering stable marriages. It is time to broaden our approach to breaking the cycle of disadvantage. Two promising approaches, according to economic analysis, are adjusting the Earned Income Tax Credit so that it is available to all single workers, men and women alike, and strengthening public education for low-income children. Paradoxically, both these strategies may do more to create stable families than policies that explicitly attempt to promote marriage.
Frank F. Furstenberg is the Zellerback Family Professor of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, He is also a Senior Fellow at the Council on Contemporary Families, a research associate at the Population Studies Center, and chair of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood. This briefing paper was written to stimulate discussion among researchers and clinicians in advance of the Council's 11th annual conference, April 25-26, University of Illinois at Chicago
CONTACTS: Professor Furstenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, w. 415-291-4486, h: 415-929-1941. For media assistance, contact Virginia Rutter, Framingham State College Department of Sociology, email@example.com, 508-626-4863.
FURTHER INFORMATION: For more information on the studies described in this briefing paper, see Furstenberg's recent book, "Destinies of the Disadvantaged: The Politics of Teen Childbearing" (Russell Sage Foundation, 2007). See also Gabrielle Raley, "Avenue to Adulthood: Teen Pregnancy and the Meaning of Motherhood in Poor Communities," in "American Families: A Multicultural Reader." Coontz, Raley, and Parson, eds (Routledge, forthcoming, 2008).
On international comparisons of poverty rates and child well-being, contact Timothy Smeeding, Distinguished Professor of Economics and Public Administration and Director, Center for Policy Research, Syracuse University, firstname.lastname@example.org, 315-443-9042.
On the reasons that impoverished mothers, of all race, often choose motherhood over marriage, contact, Kathryn Edin, Professor of Public Policy and Management, Harvard University: email@example.com . Phone Contact: Tilman Jacobs, Kathryn's assistant. 617-496-4082
On the diverging benefits and functions of marriage for impoverished and for economically affluent women over the last 50 years, contact Stephanie Coontz, Professor of History and Family Studies, The Evergreen State College. 360 556-9223; firstname.lastname@example.org
On the obstacles facing teen fathers, contact Waldo Johnson, a professor at the School of Social Service Administration and director, Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture (CSRPC) of the University of Chicago email@example.com, 773 702-8063.
For more information on the complex causes of unwed childbearing and relationship break-up among impoverished women, contact Paula England, Professor of Sociology, Stanford University, firstname.lastname@example.org-, 650-723-4912 or 650-815-9308,
- - - -
MARK YOUR CALENDARS FOR CCF CONFERENCE April 25-26: Family issues in Contention
Family scholars--including historians, sociologists, psychologists, therapists, social workers, political scientists, and economists--meet this spring for the 11th annual conference of the Council on Contemporary Families. The conference, held April 25-26 at the University of Illinois-Chicago, features what organizers have dubbed "Family Issues in Contention." The two-day dialogue will explore the latest research on youthful sex, adoption, cohabitation, and divorce. The program includes:
- A panel on the teen phenomenon of "hooking-up" with new research, and commentators from diverse perspectives.
-Another workshop on the thorny question, "Is Transracial and Transnational Adoption the Right Policy for Parents? Children? Society?"
-Still another panel of demographers and clinical psychologists examining whether cohabitation is "good" for love or for marriage.
- And in an ongoing consideration of a complicated question, a session examines what are the latest thoughts on divorce versus "sticking it out."
Please watch our website, www.contemporaryfamilies.org for conference updates. Press may register by contacting Stephanie Coontz at email@example.com .
The Council on Contemporary Families, based at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is a non-profit, non-partisan association of prominent family researchers and clinicians whose aim is to make accessible to the press and public recent research on family formation, marriage, divorce, childhood and family diversity.
For more information on CCF, go to http://www.contemporaryfamilies.org or contact Stephanie Coontz, Director of Research and Public Education, Council on Contemporary Families: firstname.lastname@example.org . Phone: 360 352-8117.
For more information on teen poverty, contact Professor Furstenberg at email@example.com, w. 415-291-4486, h: 415-929-1941, or Virginia Rutter (Framingham State College Department of Sociology) firstname.lastname@example.org, 508 626 4863.
AScribe - The Public Interest Newswire / 510-653-9400
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