1976 Special Issue on Teens
In 1976, Perspectives published a special issue on teens, covering their sexual activity, their behavior and attitudes regarding “fertility control” (that’s what it was called), and how their lives are affected when they become pregnant. (The topic was so important, and there was so much ground to cover, we devoted another issue to it just two years later.) In retrospect, the scope of the research may seem narrow, the study methods primitive and the framing dated. Yet, the studies described here represented some big steps forward for research in this area. A couple of examples:
Frank F. Furstenberg, Jr., noted that “the widespread conviction that early childbearing precipitates a number of social and economic problems is founded…on surprisingly little evidence.” The major shortcomings of existing research, he continued, were that it did not explore long-term impacts and did not compare outcomes between young mothers and their childless peers. Furstenberg took on both of those deficiencies in a study of a cohort of adolescents younger than 18 getting prenatal care at a Baltimore clinic in 1966–1968. Researchers tracked them through 1972, and for comparative purposes, in 1970 and 1972, they interviewed a group of participants’ former classmates who had not had a pregnancy during their early teens. Absent were the significance tests and multivariate analyses that are standard in current work, but the descriptive results covered extensive ground, bolstering the case that teenage mothers faced increased likelihoods of experiencing educational and marital disruption, economic problems, and difficulty achieving their desired family size and caring for their children.
Meanwhile, at the national level, no one data set presented a complete picture of teenagers’ sexual and contraceptive behavior in the ’70s. Frederick S. Jaffe and Joy G. Dryfoos’s contribution was to pull together data from several sources to provide a “more complete, albeit still approximate, picture.” They used national surveys (including the 1973 NSFG, although it excluded unmarried teens), vital statistics, census data, a reporting system for organized family planning clinics and a survey that monitored visits to private physicians’ offices. The resulting compilation of statistics yielded information on the occurrence, intendedness and outcomes of teen pregnancies; where teens went for contraceptives and what methods they chose; and more.
Teenagers remain at the center of much of the work that appears in Perspectives. And we remain committed to featuring research that uses the best possible approaches to identifying young people’s sexual and reproductive health needs, and to helping them achieve healthy, rewarding outcomes.