Children Living in Poverty Birthing Children into Poverty: A Continuing Cycle

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High rates of youth poverty precede high rates of teenage childbearing. Teens residing in communities with high rates of poverty, welfare use, and single-mother households are at higher risk for early pregnancy.

Teen pregnancy continues to be a global and domestic public health issue but what’s the missing link in prevention?  When looking at those living in poverty, does teen pregnancy contribute to the cause or consequence of poverty?  Rates within the United States are continuing to see a steady increase after years of a steady pace downwards in rates.  In the United States, the history of teen pregnancy rates showed an overall 23% increase from 1986 to a peak in 1991 and then decreasing 34% by 2005.  The birth rate for teens aged 15-19 years increased 5% from 2005 to 2007 with most of the increase taking place in 2006.  The U.S. still has the highest teen pregnancy rates in the fully developed world.  Studies even show some researchers have suggested high poverty rates in the United States account for the U.S. teen birth rates are the highest of any industrialized nation.  Statistics show one in three American women conceive by the time she is 20. 

Along with the steady increase in teen pregnancy rates, there has also been an increase in the number of children living in poverty.  Poverty has played a starring role in the reproductive and maternal health status of young girls giving birth at such young ages. Lack of quality services, comprehensive sex education, and low levels of educational attainment, allows for the cycle of young teen mothers living in poverty to be repeated.  Risks within the health of the child are greater within a teenage pregnancy.  According to the “Social Barriers Faced by Adolescent Parents and Their Children” article by Howard Spivak, MD and Michael Weitzman, MD,  “Children living in poverty are at increased risk of a wide range of health problems—being born prematurely or small for gestational age, failure to thrive, iron deficiency anemia, lead poisoning, abuse and neglect, develop mental delay, and injuries”. Teen pregnancy also increases the risk for infant mortality.

So what can we attribute to the rise of teen pregnancy rates?  Is it the stint we had of abstinence only sex education?  Can we say it has been due to the lack of supportive reproductive health services?  Sarah S. Brown, director of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization, stated in a Washington Post article, "People love to argue about how to prevent teen pregnancy, but sometimes we fail to shine enough light on the basic problem," Brown said. "Teen pregnancy is a major contributor to poverty, single parenthood, and limited futures for adolescents and their children”.  A Minnesota based study showed high rates of youth poverty precede high rates of teenage childbearing. Teens residing in communities with high rates of poverty, welfare use, and single-mother households are at higher risk for early pregnancy.  The combination of pregnancy and poverty assists in laying the ground work for an increase in school dropout rates among young girls, a lack of jobs with complete benefits and little to no health care coverage.  

To steer away from poverty driven teen pregnancies, what can we offer as a solution?  What can we now identify as the missing link in teen pregnancy prevention?  Keeping in mind the different circumstances most youth are dealing with, such as poverty, can help to lay the ground work for preventing the birth of more children into poverty stricken areas.   

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