Column: Health

March 14, 1990 4 min read

A controversial new study concludes that poor inner-city adolescents may be better off having babies as teenagers than delaying their childrearing until their mid-to-late twenties.

The study’s author, Arline Geronimus, an assistant professor of public health policy and administration at the University of Michigan, argues that poor teenagers who have a baby improve their economic outlook and are more likely to have a healthy baby than if they delay childbirth.

“I would like to go on record today in opposition to the view that teenage childbearing is self-destructive, irrational, or antisocial behavior,” Ms. Geronimus said during a presentation at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science last month.

“Indeed, the teenage years may be the optimal time for childbearing among those who have grown up in and continue to face persistent poverty,” she said.

Her study, drawing heavily on published data, is the latest in a series of findings that challenge many traditional views about teenage pregnancy. Another study, presented at the same session, concluded that teenage girls who give birth while still enrolled in high school are no more likely to become dropouts than their childless classmates. (See Education Week, Feb. 21, 1990.)

By having a baby, Ms. Geronimus said, poor teenage girls gain access to an extended family and support system that they wouldn’t have if they remained childless. This support system, she said, provides financial and emotional assistance to both the mother and baby.

The child, she said, is also more likely to be healthy if the mother is still a teenager. The health status of poor women declines as they reach their mid-to-late twenties, and teenagers from this socioeconomic group are more likely to have healthy babies than are older women, she noted.

The researcher said she believes that teenage pregnancy should be viewed as a symptom of poverty, rather than as a condition that causes poverty.

Schools can do much more to ensure that pregnant and parenting teenagers can complete their education, a new report concludes.

According to the report, completed by the Academy for Educational Development, school policies and programs typically overlook these vulnerable population groups. And existing programs generally target girls who are pregnant, not those who have already become mothers, the report says.

The report recommends that schools work with other agencies to develop a continuum of services for pregnant and parenting adolescents. These services could include providing child care and transportation and developing policies concerning leave and absence, it suggests.

Copies of the report, “A Stitch in Time,” are available for $10 each from the aed, 1255 23rd St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20037, Attn: Marjorie Webster.

The nation’s infant-mortality rate, which has been improving for three decades, is likely to worsen as a result of poverty, drug abuse, teenage pregnancies, and poor prenatal care, a new study concludes.

The report by the National Commission to Prevent Infant Mortality found that 105 infants die each day, and that nearly 39,000 of the 3.8 million babies born each year die before their first birthday. The national infant-mortality rate of 10.1 per 1,000 live births is higher than that in 19 other industrialized countries.

Moreover, the gap between the black and white infant-mortality rates is the widest it has been since 1940, when the government began collecting this statistic. Black babies are more than twice as likely to die and more than three times as likely to be born at a low birth weight than white babies, the report says.

The commission recommended that the federal government expand the Medicaid program so that more poor pregnant women can receive early prenatal care.

Beginning next month, all states are required to provide Medicaid services to all pregnant women with family incomes below 133 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $15,000 for a family of four.

Senator Bill Bradley, Democrat of New Jersey and a commission member, introduced legislation last week that would raise this limit to 185 percent, or about $22,000 for a four-person family.

A new report estimates that between 3 and 4 million children under the age of 6 have harmful levels of lead in their blood.

According to the report, prepared by the Environmental Defense Fund, a Washington-based advocacy group, a majority of preschool-age children in many older cities have more than 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood.

Even at this low level, the report says, scientists have found that children can become neurologically impaired.

Recent studies have found that exposure to lead can also be linked with lower scores on intelligence tests and poor academic performance.

The report estimates that more than a million children live in houses where the paint is peeling or the walls are crumbling, which increases their chances of inhaling or ingesting lead.

The group called for a tax on the production and importation of lead to finance the removal of lead from homes.--ef

A version of this article appeared in the March 14, 1990 edition of Education Week as Column: Health