Item from the Smart
Marriages Archive, reproduced in the Divorce Statistics
For Release on September 22, 1999, 9:00 a.m.
To: Print and Broadcast Journalists
Re: The Age of Unwed Mothers: Is Teen Pregnancy the Problem?
New York, NY, September 22, 9:00 a.m. / Why have three decades of
intensive national effort to reduce teen pregnancy not been more
successful? Because for three decades, we have misunderstood the problem,
says Maggie Gallagher in a major new report that fundamentally challenges
a generation of expert and popular thinking on this subject. Says
"What we have called our 'teen pregnancy' crisis is not really about
teenagers. Nor is it really about pregnancy. It is about the decline of
In The Age of Unwed Mothers, newly released from the Institute for
American Values, Gallagher points out that the number of young women who
have their first child during their teen years was about the same in the
early 1970s as it is today:
"What has changed most in recent decades is not who gets pregnant,
who gets married. The single biggest change in recent decades has been
the declining proportion of pregnant single teens who marry."
Moreover: "Our 'teen pregnancy' crisis is inseparable from the disconnect
between marriage and childbearing that increasingly characterizes the
procreative behavior of adults in their 20s." In fact: "The majority
unwed births in the United States today are to adult women in their 20s.
These are not 'children having children,' nor are they 'Murphy Browns.'"
For Gallagher, the key to understanding the teen pregnancy crisis is
"For a young woman today who does not see marriage as an essential
support to her motherhood, or who does not foresee much possibility of
making a good marriage in the future, the decision to become a single
mother at age 18 or 19 is not especially irrational or hard to
understand. If it is not marriage that confers special meaning to the
sexual act, then perhaps it is her giving the gift of unprotected sex, or
making a baby. If it is not marriage that a young woman is waiting for
before becoming a mother, then how much difference will a few more years
of waiting really make?"
The Age of Unwed Mothers is a richly detailed, comprehensive review of
the current scholarly literature on teen pregnancy. Carefully documented,
it also draws upon interviews with experts in the field, school
personnel, social workers, and teen mothers themselves.
The report concludes with 16 recommendations for change, in areas ranging
from adoption to Norplant, from what Congress should do to how public
schools can both improve educational outcomes for pregnant and parenting
students and help to reduce the incidence of teen pregnancy.
The report's first recommendation is that "we retire the term 'teen
pregnancy' from our public discourse."
In a section on "School-Age Girls and the Wisdom of Mainstreaming,"
Gallagher investigates whether current federal law requiring communities
to "mainstream" pregnant teens in the public schools is helping
hurting teenage mothers. Pregnant girls appear to perform better
academically - and also have less welfare dependence and reduced repeat
childbearing -- when they attend separate schools. The pregnant girls
themselves often feel more comfortable in separate schools. Yet the
current federal mandate for "mainstreaming" interferes with local
districts' efforts to deliver services to pregnant teens more
effectively, including experimenting with alternative schools.
Partly a work of scholarship, The Age of Unwed Mothers is also a work of
cultural criticism and a passionate call for change. Consider:
"Why should a teenager postpone having a baby? What our society as
whole, and especially our 'teen pregnancy' rhetoric, currently tells
these young people-until you reach age 20, having a baby is a huge
mistake, as is getting married, but after that, it's up to you -- is not
likely to capture their moral imagination. Does it capture yours?"
And: "To a degree that might make many of us uncomfortable, when young
women today prefer unwed motherhood over adoption or early marriage, they
have not been ignoring adult counsel. They have been heeding it."
And: "When a teenager is postponing having a baby, what is she waiting
for? Having more of our young people answer, "a good marriage,"
become our highest priority."
About Maggie Gallagher:
A nationally syndicated columnist and the director of the Marriage
Project of the Institute for American Values, Maggie Gallagher is the
co-author, with Professor Linda Waite of the University of Chicago, of
The Case for Marriage (Harvard University Press, forthcoming, 2000).
About the Institute for American Values:
The Institute for American Values, founded in 1987, is a private,
nonpartisan organization devoted to research, publication, and public
education on major issues of family well-being and civil society. The
Institute's mission is to examine the status and future of the family as
a social institution and the sources of competence, character, and
To arrange an interview with Maggie Gallagher, for more information about
The Age of Unwed Mothers, or to get a copy of the report, please contact
David Brenner at the Institute by phone (212-246-3942) or e-mail
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