Teenage Pregnancy Takes Center Stage in a Special Issue

In the 1970s, rising teenage pregnancy rates led to growing concern among both the general public and the health care community. As research on this topic proliferated, the journal responded in 1978 by publishing a special issue on teenage pregnancy. The five articles in this issue addressed a variety of subjects, including the possible impact on teenagers’ educational and occupational prospects, subsequent fertility and future welfare dependency. One study estimated that U.S. teenagers experienced 1.3 million pregnancies in 1976, and that more than one-third of 14-year-olds may get pregnant at least once before turning 20. Other research used the first cycle of the National Survey of Family Growth to examine the relationship between early childbearing and subsequent fertility; one of the main findings was that younger age at first birth was strongly related to a faster pace of subsequent childbirth and greater overall fertility. An unexpected finding was that marital status at first birth was only weakly associated with individuals’ later fertility. The final article in the issue, using data from the 1976 Current Population Survey, found that females who lived in a household that received Aid to Families with Dependent Children were more likely than others to have had a child as a teenager.

Overall, the authors represented in this special issue identified a variety of approaches to ameliorate the negative consequences of teenage pregnancy—among them, improve sex education programs and make them more widely available, promote greater availability and use of contraceptives, and support teenagers in completing their high school education, which can lead to improved occupational opportunities. Notably, these same approaches are commonly recommended in current articles to ensure that, whether adolescents intend to parent or not, they have the information, services and support they need to meet their reproductive goals.

Cover illustrations of Margaret Sanger © Matthew and Eve Levine