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Pregnancy Among Teens
All societies possess social standards that control the sequence and the tempo of important life occurrences. Frank Furstenberg in, Unplanned Parenthood introduces this notion of social standards through what he terms the normative schedule. According to Furstenberg normative schedules are, “prescribed life courses, it is the timing of life events”(Furstenberg pg.2). Normative schedules vary from society to society. They are precise structures imposed by cultural rules and by social constraints. Through normative schedules public as well as private experiences are ’scheduled’ or structured to occur at a specific time and in specific circumstances.
The scheduling of parenthood, a private behavior, is subject to a society’s normative schedule. When and under what circumstances vary from one culture to another, but no society leaves it purely to biological chance. Furstenberg’s normative schedules are direct results of the cultural restrictions on life that Herbert Blumer explores in his book, Society as Symbolic Interaction. According to Blumer, “social theorists have long recognized the universal existence of cultural restrictions on reproduction” (Blumer pg.50). A culture’s restrictions on reproduction allow for the creation of parental normative schedules. In most societies where the normative schedule is followed, individuals are allowed to experience certain behaviors, such as parenting, through the private realm as long as the ‘norm’ of the system is not disrupted. According to Furstenberg, “schedule disruptions are usually disadvantageous”(Furstenberg pg4). This is because cultural standards are arranged in such a fixed position that any disturbance such as teen pregnancy creates an imbalance in the ‘natural’ benefits of operating within the system.
Teen mothers operate outside of their allowable, private, discourse in the normative schedule, thus creating an imbalance in the culture. Normative schedules dictate individuals’ proper places and status in a culture. Disturbances in cultural life, such as premature motherhood, sometimes result in premature status transitions, placing people into positions for which they are unprepared or unable to assume because society is constructed to support those who follow the normative schedule of life. Arthur Campbell in, “The Role of Family Planning in the Reduction of Poverty” expresses this idea in the following way:
The girl who has an illegitimate child at the age of 16 suddenly has 90 percent of her life’s script written for her. Her life choices are few, and most of them are bad. Had she been able to delay the first child, her prospects might have been quite different (Campbell pg30).
Barrie Thorne in her essay, “Feminism and the Family: Two Decades of Thought” explores the idea of normative scheduling, the concept of motherhood, and the consequences of entering this status through what she terms ideological constructs. Through this system one is introduced to fixed characteristics that he/she must prescribe to in order to be accepted into any given institution or community.
Thorne would say teen motherhood does not support society’s ideology of the family; rather it challenges it. Although early motherhood does not support the system, teen mothers are still mothers and therefore subject to suffer the ramifications of being a mother in our society. According to Thorne, “the ideology of the family, more specifically motherhood, has reinforced the economic exploitation of all women”(Thorne pg6). Thus teen mothers are thrust, early, into an institution of oppression built on a concept of exploitation and degradation, motherhood. As a result, motherhood is no longer looked upon as a private experience but rather as a public deviance to cultural law and takes on the persona of a public problem with negative results for the new mother. Research suggests that early childbearing has negative consequences for the mother as well as the child. However, the effects are not always direct, instead it seems to trigger a chain of events that undermine later social and economic development. An essentially private behavior, childbearing, has been transformed into a symbol of social disorder and the cause of other social ills. There are many direct effects on education, family size, and marital status, and the indirect effects on economic status and welfare dependency of teens who prematurely enter the status of motherhood.
The “National Longitudinal Study of the Labor Market Experiences of Young Women” is a study of 502 young mothers compiled by the U.S. Department of Labor and the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. The purpose of this study was to test previous research that associated early motherhood with many social and economic problems. Unlike previous studies the NLS and PSID studies attempted to determine whether the achievements of young women were inhibited by having a first birth at a young age or whether early childbearers were limited by personal and social characteristics other than their age at first birth (NLS pg20). This was done by controlling the social, economic, and motivational factors of the young mothers. The women being studied were between the ages of 14 and 24. These women were interviewed over the course of 5 years. Over this time period extensive information was obtained on the education and work experiences of the respondents, as well as on their social and economic backgrounds.
Research has documented the correlation of premature motherhood with less formal education (NLS). The NLS and the PSID results show the impact of an early first birth on ones formal education. Girls in the study who bore a child at fifteen or younger completed only nine years of school, those who had a first born at sixteen or seventeen completed ten years (NLS). It is clear that the age of the mother at the birth of her first born is the strongest influence or one of the strongest influences on schooling. These statistics are complicated when you look at teen mothers who also marry at a young age. Many teen mothers see marriage as a means to avoid some of the hardships associated with early motherhood. Adan Chamul, eighteen, of Northridge, California had this misleading mentality when, at fifteen, she married her seventeen-year-old boyfriend and dropped out of school as a result of pregnancy. Chamul, now twenty-two, has just begun to consider the idea of re-entering school (People pg.39). Research suggests that the young woman who both has a child and marries is the most likely to drop out of school. The young woman who bears a child but does not marry is only half as likely to drop out of school as the young woman who becomes a mother and wife. (Moore pg.7). Chamul, in her attempt to create a better life, put herself and her child at an even greater disadvantage.
Presumably the realities of Adan Chamul and other teen mothers makes it difficult for them to realize or even remember previous goals, whatever they were. Education has no immediate bearing on being a successful mother or a successful wife. As a result, teen mothers are left playing catch up, scholastically with their later bearing peers, who operated within the normative schedule. Their lack of education sets into motion disastrous dynamics, which ultimately will lead them into disadvantageous positions outside of the schedule.
The size of family is also set into motion as a result of early motherhood. Analyses provide strong support for an association between an early first birth and higher subsequent births. According to the National Council on Illegitimacy:
Women who have children early in their lives have many fecund years left. In addition, the low contraceptive effectiveness characteristic of most teenage mothers may contribute to subsequent unplanned births (The Double Jeopardy pg55).
To the extent that an early birth interferes with a mother’s education, the young mother has limited her range of job opportunities to fairly unattractive and poorly paid ones. The young mother soon realizes that her culture is not constructed to reward individuals who step outside the normative schedule. This may lead her to center all of her energies on motherhood in an attempt to reap some of the benefits given to women in her same cultural status. According to Keith Scott, author of Teenage Parents and Their Offspring, “among mothers aged thirty-five to fifty-two, those who were fifteen or younger at their first birth have an average of three children more than women who were at least twenty-four when they became mothers” (Scott pg101). The limited earning ability of a poorly educated single mother with a large family makes poverty a likely outcome, thus making her personal economic problem a public social problem.
Although it is obvious that education and family size is directly effected by early motherhood, but does early motherhood have any direct effect on later participation in the work force and on earnings for young mothers? According to Moore, author of Teenage Motherhood, early motherhood does not have a direct effect on the economic status of women; education, experience, and family size are the most important factors. Moore states, “although there are no direct effects indirect effects of early birth are anticipated”(Moore pg55). Since early childbearers tend to have more children, early childbearing indirectly effects work experience through its effects on family size. Women who have larger families tend to normally accumulate less work experience over their lifetime due to parenting demands and work experience has a direct effect on ones economic status. According to the ABA Journal a birth lessens the chance that a nonworking woman will start working and increases the likelihood that a working woman will quit (ABA Journal pg60). A second indirect effect of an early birth arises from early childbearers’ lesser schooling (Goldfarb pg 108). Women with less schooling obtain jobs with lower socioeconomic status. Therefore, entering motherhood early can be said to, indirectly, reduce women’s participation in the work force and effect their earnings; therefore allocating their proper place and status in the normative schedule as that of very low social and economic standing.
Also indirectly affected by early childbearing are female-headed families on welfare. Nearly half of all families headed by women are in poverty. (Moore pg55). Although teenage birth does not appear to be associated with subsequently becoming head of a family, a teenage birth can increase the probability of welfare receipt indirectly in many ways. (Moore pg58). There is an association between early marriage and marital breakup and since pregnancy usually precedes early marriage, it may be viewed as having an indirect effect. Greater welfare dependency is also evident of this family form. According to statistics compiled by NLS mothers whose first child was born outside of marriage are more likely to receive welfare; this association is stronger among younger women. According to the National Journal, “almost half of unwed teen mothers go on welfare within one year of their baby’s birth and these mothers form the majority of people with long-term welfare dependency”(Nat. Journal pg1). Moreover, the fewer years of schooling and relatively large families of teenage mothers increase the likelihood of welfare receipt.
As a result of operating outside of the normative schedule, teen mothers are indirectly forced by our own federal government to live well below the poverty line established by our society. This idea of economic oppression is expressed in, “The War Against the Poor” an article by Thomas Sugrue. According to Sugrue, “it is impossible to pay monthly rents, utility bills, and basic food, clothing, and other expenses on a meager welfare check (Sugrue pg.2). Many welfare recipients hold part-time versus full-time jobs to avoid losing their benefits and falling even further into poverty. Many would see welfare as an institution constructed to keep those, mothers, who operated outside of their normative schedule literally on the outside. To be on the outside in our society is to have limited access to resources and political institutions. Teen mothers on welfare are forced to operate with an unequal distribution of power.
The line graph below exhibits the correlation between the direct and indirect effects of an early birth on later socioeconomic outcomes.
In all, early childbearers, as a result of deviating from the normative schedule, seem to have more difficulties and endure more unhappiness. As a group they end up less well off than people who delay childbearing and operate within their allowable discourse. One could also conclude that their children would have had easier lives if their parents followed society’s ideology of the family.
The critical issues in deterring teen pregnancy seem to be ones of choice, equal opportunity, and the initial welfare of the mothers themselves. Do women really become mothers at an early age out of choice? When implementing strategies to prevent early motherhood one must assess whether teen mothers, prior to their pregnancy, were outside of their society’s normative schedule. Do early mothers come from already “non-normal” environments, and does an early pregnancy simply continue the cycle of malnormity? Studies suggest that their are multiple personal and social implications rooted in teen pregnancy. Social learning theorists have long speculated that teens form their feelings, thoughts, and actions from observing and imitating others whom they perceive as appropriate role models, whether they are adults or peers (Rodriquez pg.685). As young teens approach the middle adolescent years there is pressure to conform. Teens conform to fit into their surrounding environment; thus, if those around them operate outside of their allotted positions, so to will they. Family relationships also, indirectly, influence early pregnancy. The closer a family fits its society’s ideological constructs the less likely its members are to deviate from their normative schedule. In order to combat teen pregnancy there is a need to plan and implement programs in society that support normative schedules at an early age. This would offer a firm rationale for strengthening communal and family life. A healthy family and social background has the potential to obstruct the cycle of teen pregnancy.
Anonymous. “Social policy-Sexuality, Poverty, and the Inner City”. National Journal. March 25,1995 (27:771).
Blumer, Herbert. “Society as Symbolic Interaction.” In Human Behavior and Social Processes. Ed. Arnold M. Ross. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1962. 3-27.
Campbell, Arthur. “The Role of Family Planning in the Reduction of Poverty.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 30 (1968): 236-45.
Furstenberg, Frank, Jr. Unplanned Parenthood. New York: The Free Press, 1976.
Goldberg, Stephanie B. “Talking with attorney general Janet Reno.” ABA Journal. January 1993 (79:46).
Goldfarb, Wiliams. “Emotional and interlectual consequences of psychological deprivation in infancy.” Psychopathology of Childhood. Ed. A re-evaluation in P.Hock and J.Zubien. New York: Grune & Stratton, 1985. 105-19.
Moore, Kristin, et al. Teenage Motherhood. Washington D.C.: The Urban Institute, 1979.
National Council On Illegitimacy. The Double Jeopardy The Triple Crisis. New York: NCI, 1969.
Reske, Henry J. “The Baby Trap.” People Weekly. October 24,1994 (42:38).
Rodriquez, Cleo,Jr. “Perceptions of pregnant/parenting teens.” Adolescence. Fall 1995 (30:685).
Sugrue, Thomas. “Poor Vision-The War Against the Poor.” Tikkun. September 1995 (10:87).
Scott, Keith, et al. Teenage Parents and Their Offspring. New York: Grune & Stratton, 1981.
Thorne, Barrie. “Feminism and the Family: Two Decades of Thought.” Rethinking the Family Some Feminist Questions Ed. Barrie Thorne and Marilyn Yalom. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1992. 3-30.
United States. U.S. Congress, Department of Labor, et al. National Longitudinial Study of the Labor Market Experiences of Young Women. Washington: 1990
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