Poverty Reduction Through Sex Education
by Francis P. Koster, Ed.D.
In 2009, 41% of all babies born in the United States were born to unwed mothers[i] - more than a million and a half newborns without married parents.[ii]
This does not bode well, because the kids of unmarried mothers are likely to attend school for fewer years, have sex at younger ages, and not surprisingly have children out of wedlock themselves. They will have lower lifetime income, more divorces, and more likely to be on welfare as adults.[iii]
The more unwed mothers we have now, the more we are going to have. The problem gets worse as the age of the unwed mother drops. The newborn of a teen has a child for a mother .
An unmarried, first time teen mom typically goes on to have two or more additional pregnancies.[iv]
Children born to unwed teens ages 15-19 who do not finish high school, are nine times more likely to be poor than those who have a mom who graduated high school, got married, and conceived in her 20's.[v]
As a Futurist, I worry about our country, and want to know what could be done to reverse this trend. Fortunately, there are some bright spots in the teen pregnancy arena.
Although single parent births by mature women are up dramatically, the single parent teen birth rate has dropped 44% in the past 19 years.[vi] This still results in around 400,000 newborns among mothers ages 15-19.
One interesting program with a high success rate was started at University of North Carolina Greensboro by some hospital delivery room nurses. After discovering that many of the pregnant young woman had older sisters that also had children out of wedlock, it occurred to them that the younger sister had poor role models. They discovered that these younger sisters were at very high risk to imitate their pregnant big sister, and were therefore a great population to try to help.
They set up a program called College Bound Sisters for girls who met certain conditions - an older sister who became pregnant while unmarried, never been pregnant themselves, committed to staying in high school, and wanted to attend college. They identified a second group of girls who met that criteria, but did not enroll in the program, so the effectiveness of the program could be measured.
The support program consisted of twice weekly gatherings for education and personal goal setting. In addition to other benefits of participating, a deposit of 7 dollars was made into a college fund for every week they participated in the program. The effect of this was to focus the young woman on long range planning and savings, as well as education - it was life education, not sex education.
The results were astounding. The pregnancy rate of the girls who went through the support program was only 25% of that of girls not enrolled in the program.[vii] The high school dropout rate for young woman in the program was also only 1/4th of that of the group that got no support. Thirteen of the first fifteen graduates went on to college.[viii]
Similar results are found in a program called the Carrera Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program founded by Dr. Carrera in 1984 in New York City. This program has an after school component, and a very comprehensive set of activities from middle school through graduation from high school . Evaluation showed all sorts of risky behavior such as alcohol use and fighting were much reduced. Participants were 30% more likely to graduate from high school, and 37% more likely to enroll in college. Females who participated in the program had 1/3 the pregnancies of the comparison group.[ix]
Key to both programs was the notion that the programs were not focused on sex education - rather, they were comprehensive life planning programs, teaching goal setting and support through the difficult adolescent years. As Dr. Carrera sees it, a life full of chaos does not get better with sex education...it gets better through a comprehensive set of social supports, medical care, financial planning, and discussions about reproduction - all ingredients which are likely missing from the life of an at-risk teen.
The savings resulting from both programs far outstrip the program costs. You can check out the research at The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Their website is http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/.
We can create a better America by using the hard won lessons of these pioneers who have shown us the way.
[iv] PREVENTING SECONDARY PREGNANCY IN ADOLESCENTS: A MODEL PROGRAM
By: Hazel N. Brown, Ed.D, RNC, CNAA, Rebecca B. Saunders, PhD, RNC, and Margaret J.
Dick, PhD, RN
[v] National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, April 2005