Adolescent Moms Who Finish High School Belie Stereotypes, UGA Researcher Finds

February 20, 1997

ATHENS, Ga. -- A national study on adolescent mothers who complete high school debunks a number of stereotypes, according to a University of Georgia researcher.

Using data obtained from the National Survey of Family Growth, Velma McBride Murry, an associate professor of child and family development in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, examined the adult life experiences of 1,666 African-American women who had graduated from high school at least five years ago to determine how their lives were affected by their decisions concerning sex.

"Efforts to reduce teen pregnancies generally tell young women that abstaining from sexual intercourse during adolescence increases opportunities for educational advancement, employment in prestigious positions, getting married and having a traditional family," Murry explained. "But our study shows that if you adjust for high school graduation, the differences between African-American women who remain virgins throughout high school, those who are sexually active and those who actually have children aren't nearly so great as we've been led to believe."

Murry divided the women in her study into four groups: "virgins," those who didn't have sex during high school; "never pregnants," those who were sexually active but never became pregnant; "ever pregnants," those who had abortions; and "adolescent mothers," those who had a child prior to high school graduation.

According to the participants, 29 percent were virgins, 34 percent were never pregnant, 4 percent had abortions, and 33 percent were adolescent mothers.

"Even by controlling for educational attainment our study clearly showed that women who had children during adolescence did not fare as well educationally, financially or in terms of professional attainment," Murry said. "However, the picture isn't nearly as bleak as previously portrayed."

For example, while just over 60 percent of the virgins and never pregnants had obtained white-collar positions, the percentage for those who had abortions was 50 percent and the figure for adolescent mothers was 47 percent.

Also, although 47 percent of the adolescent moms were living in poverty, nearly half were living between 100 and 200 percent above the poverty level. In comparison, the rate of poverty for the other groups was 19 percent for virgins, 24 percent for those who were never pregnant, and 34 percent for those who had abortions.

Murry noted that virgins and adolescent moms were the least likely to be in marital relationships. Those most likely to be married by age 25 were the small percentage of the study who reported having had abortions.

Just as there were more similarities than differences in the life trajectories of the women in her study, Murry points out that many of the women had strong similarities in their background and that these similarities refute common assumptions about African-American families.

"Although African-American families frequently are described as being headed by single mothers, the majority of the virgins, never pregnants and those who had abortions had lived with both biological parents during adolescence," Murry noted. "Further, 47 percent of the adolescent mothers reported similar living arrangements."

Religious participation was also a common trait among the women studied by Murry, with most of the respondents reporting that they attended church at least once per week. Virgins and adolescent mothers reported attending church more frequently than the other two groups.

"These findings suggest a need to question the standard processes we use in asking teen-agers to delay sexual activity," Murry said. "Equating sexual activity status with future life options is questionable based on these findings. Further, just as adults are aware of the increasing unemployment and underemployment rates confronting our society, late adolescents are also aware."

In addition to addressing the structural inequalities and racism facing all African Americans, Murry also believes that a more global approach should be used to explain the burdens and benefits of childbearing from the adolescent's perspective.

"We can't assume that all children born to adolescent parents are unplanned," Murry said. "We need to begin asking teen-agers how they view early childbearing. For some it might be a minor annoyance or even a benefit rather than the burden that adult society views it."

University of Georgia

Related Poverty Articles from Brightsurf:

COVID-19 second wave in Myanmar causes dramatic increases in poverty
New evidence combining surveys from urban and rural Myanmar and simulation analysis find COVID-19 second wave dramatically increasing poverty and food insecurity.

Advancing the accurate tracking of energy poverty
IIASA researchers have developed a novel measurement framework to track energy poverty that better aligns with the services people lack rather than capturing the mere absence of physical connections to a source of electricity.

If you're poor, poverty is an environmental issue
A survey from Cornell researchers -- conducted among more than 1,100 US residents -- found that there were, in fact, demographic differences in how people viewed environmental issues, with racial and ethnic minorities and lower-income people more likely to consider human factors such as racism and poverty as environmental, in addition to more ecological issues like toxic fumes from factories or car exhaust.

Poverty associated with suicide risk in children and adolescents
Between 2007 to 2016, nearly 21,000 children ages 5-19 years old died by suicide.

New index maps relationships between poverty and accessibility in Brazil
Poor transportation availability can result in poor access to health care and employment, hence reinforcing the cycle of poverty and concerning health outcomes such as low life expectancy and high child mortality in rural Brazil.

Repeated periods of poverty accelerate the ageing process
People who have found themselves below the relative poverty threshold four or more times in their adult life age significantly earlier than others.

Poverty as disease trap
The realities of subsistence living in a region of Senegal hard hit by schistosomiasis make reinfection likely, despite mass drug administration.

Persistent poverty affects one in five UK children
Persistent poverty affects one in five children in the UK, and is associated with poor physical and mental health in early adolescence, suggests research published online in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

Poverty leaves a mark on our genes
In this study, researchers found evidence that poverty can become embedded across wide swaths of the genome.

Satellite images reveal global poverty
How far have we come in achieving the UN's sustainable development goals that we are committed to nationally and internationally?

Read More: Poverty News and Poverty Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to