Nearly 330,000 teen girls between the ages of 15 and 19 get pregnant each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That translates to about 31 live births for every 1,000 teen girls in this age group. Poverty is one contributor to teen pregnancy, and getting pregnant during the teen years makes it harder to break that cycle of poverty. Knowing the reasons why poor teens are more likely to get pregnant is crucial to reducing teen pregnancy in the United States.
Lack of Education
Access to high-quality sex education and health classes are essential during the teen years, and even during the years leading up to high school, because they classes teach children how babies are made and what action they can take to prevent pregnancy. According to the CDC, education is one of the best ways to reduce the teen pregnancy rate in the United States. These educational programs go beyond pregnancy prevention, however, and aim to encompass all areas of teenage sexuality and sexual health, including the prevention of STDs, contraception, abstinence and how to avoid situations that can lead to sexual activity. These health programs don't exist in all high schools, and low-income schools are less likely to have the funding to provide them.
No Funds for Birth Control
Many families living in poverty can barely afford to pay the rent and put food on the table, which leaves little funding for birth control pills, condoms or other forms of contraception. About half of the teen girls who got pregnant between the ages of 15 and 19 admitted that they didn't use any form of birth control, according to the CDC. One reason why this occurs is that teen girls don't have the funds to purchase effective forms of contraception.
The chances that a teen girl living in poverty will get pregnant increase with certain life factors and family history. According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, teen pregnancy is more likely if a teen girl's mother gave birth when she was a teen, if her parents weren't married when she was born or if her mother didn't graduate from high school or get a GED. If one of these things occurs in a poverty-stricken teen girl's life, her chance of having a baby during her teen years is 27 percent. If two of these factors are present, her chances increase to 42 percent, and if all three factors are present, her chances raise even more to 64 percent. Compare that to the 7 percent chance a teen girl has of getting pregnant, absent these factors.
Many low-income teen girls get pregnant because they don't understand how their monthly cycle works or because they don't know at what point during their menstrual cycle they're most likely to become pregnant. In fact, almost one-third of teen girls who got pregnant between the ages of 15 and 19 state that they didn't think they were able to get pregnant at the time when they had sexual intercourse, according to the CDC. With a lack of money for birth control, many teen girls will rely on the withdrawal or rhythm methods of preventing pregnancy, but these aren't always effective, and girls can get pregnant while using them. The CDC reports that about 5 percent of girls were relying on these methods when they got pregnant.
- The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy: Teen Pregnancy, Poverty, and Income Disparity
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: About Teen Pregnancy
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Prepregnancy Contraceptive Use Among Teens with Unintended Pregnancies Resulting in Live Births — Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS), 2004–2008
- BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images