Teenagers Willing to Consider Single Parenthood

Who Is at Greatest Risk?

Published in: Family Planning Perspectives, v. 20, no. 1, Jan./Feb. 1988, p. 13-18

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 1987

by Allan Abrahamse, Peter A. Morrison, Linda Waite

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Data from the High School and Beyond panel study indicate that of 13,061 female high school sophomores who responded to both the baseline questionnaire in 1980 and a 1982 follow-up, 41 percent of blacks, 29 percent of Hispanics and 23 percent of non-Hispanic whites said they either would or might consider having a child outside of marriage. Such willingness was higher among young women who, according to their background characteristics, were at greater risk of teenage parenthood. In addition, young black women were more willing to consider having a child while single than were white or Hispanic respondents, at every level of risk. The data also show that, with the possible exception of Hispanics, willing respondents generally registered much higher rates of nonmarital childbearing over the two years following the baseline survey than the young women unwilling to consider nonmarital childbearing. Respondents' reports on their own disciplinary problems in school and on their class-cutting and absenteeism showed that such problem behavior was related to the teenagers' willingness to consider nonmarital childbearing: Proportionally more of the respondents who ranked high on a scale of problem behavior were willing to do so, even when background differences were controlled for. In addition, when the respondents' educational expectations were used as proxy measures of the potential opportunity costs of single parenthood, the results revealed that the higher their educational expectations, the lower their willingness to have an out-of-wedlock birth. This pattern persisted with the young women's background risk of teenage childbearing was considered. Finally, at least among Hispanic and white respondents, individuals who reported several instances of depression in the previous month were more likely to claim that they would consider nonmarital childbearing than were their nondepressed peers. Thus, the willingness to consider single motherhood can be traced to patterns of nonconforming behavior, to the educational opportunity costs of becoming a single mother, and, at least among whites and Hispanics, to self-reported depression, which may be a proxy for low self-esteem.

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