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Link Between Pregnancy, Dropping Out Disputed

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Teenagers who become mothers while enrolled in high school are no more likely to become dropouts than their childless classmates, the results of a new study suggest.

But dropouts who later become mothers are half as likely as childless dropouts to complete high school eventually, the report said.

About one-half of all teenagers who drop out eventually re-enroll in high school or a diploma-equivalency program, the researchers said.

The findings of the national study, which tracked the schooling and childbirth patterns of more than 5,400 young women over a seven-year period, call into question an underlying assumption of many dropout-prevention programs--that female teenagers are prone to leave school when they become pregnant.

According to the report, most dropouts who became mothers gave birth more than nine months after they left school. As a result, the researchers said, most female dropouts are not leaving school due to impending motherhood.

Other Determinants

More likely determinants of whether a female becomes a dropout, the report said, are whether she comes from a family with low educational attainment, is enrolled in classes that do not prepare her for college, or has begun to smoke and drink at a young age.

"The underlying assumption in many public policies and programs developed for adolescents is that young mothers would fare as well as their childless counterparts if only they would delay their first birth," the report's authors said. "Results from this study show this to be a seriously oversimplified assumption."

The study, which was conducted by researchers from Columbia University and Johns Hopkins University, was presented late last week at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Effects of Abortion

The study's findings follow on the heels of a more narrowly focused study done by other researchers from the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health.

In a study published in the November/December issue of Family Planning Perspectives, the researchers found that two years after having an abortion, black inner-city teenagers who had undergone the precedure were more likely to stay in school than their peers who decided to give birth. (See Education Week, Feb. 7, 1990.)--ef

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