Teen Pregnancy and Urban Youth

Competing Truths, Complacency, and Perceptions of the Problem

Two competing "truths" characterize the problem of teen pregnancy. Between 1990 and 1997, pregnancies for females 15 to 19 years of age declined by 19 percent. Yet, teen pregnancy continues to be a serious issue. Birth rates in the 15 to 19 age group, though falling, are higher than in other developed countries and significant racial and ethnic disparities exist in this country. To understand public perceptions of the issue, investigators interviewed 79 children's policy leaders and 7,716 randomly selected adults and 2,768 youth in five cities: Baltimore, Detroit, Oakland (Calif.), Philadelphia and Richmond (Va.). Only 15 percent of policy leaders cited teen pregnancy as a big problem facing children and youth, with violent crime and six other issues seen as bigger problems. However, adult respondents (58 percent) rated teen pregnancy as a bigger problem than any other issue except substance abuse (86 percent). African Americans (61 percent) were more likely than whites (54 percent) to view teen pregnancy as a big problem. Youth indicated that their peers were tolerant of early sexual activity but that their parents were not. While acceptance of early parenting was lower, more than half of the youths believed their peers thought it "OK" for someone to have a baby by age 17. The authors caution that the attention of public officials is needed to prevent a cycle of crisis to solution to complacency to resurgence.

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