The stereotype of the teen-age mother as a welfare-supported, high-school dropout is disputed in a new study by a University of Pennsylvania sociologist.
The research, directed by Frank Furstenberg Jr., involved initial interviews with 300 black women in Baltimore who gave birth as teenagers in the late 1960’s, and followup interviews in 1972 and 1984, about 17 years after the children were born.
Most of the mothers, all of whom were between the ages of 29 and 36 in 1984, had found jobs and were not on welfare. “Teen-age mothers grow up, just like everybody else,” Mr. Furstenberg aid in a prepared statement.
The study, “Adolescent Mothers in Later Life,” will be published early next year by Cambridge University Press.
The researcher noted that completing high school was one of the keys to success for those who were teen-age parents.
It takes time for young mothers to succeed, Mr. Furstenberg said. Even at the time of the second interview, five years after the births, many of the mothers were still in the cycle of poverty, he said, but by the third interview, most had acted to change their lives.
However, he said, the teen-age mothers he studied remain somewhat behind in levels of education, income, and marital success when compared with black women who delay childbearing until later.
The women surveyed who completed high school within seven years of their first pregnancy were twice as likely as high-school dropouts to have incomes of over $25,000. Mr. Furstenberg said most of the women who left high school to have babies either returned to school, or passed high-school-equivalency tests. He said 30 percent of the study participants had taken some college courses by the time of the 1984 follow-up.
In addition, the study indicate that women who managed to limit their subsequent childbearing to one or no other children over the five years following the initial pregnancy were much less likely to end up on welfare.
The children of the teen mothers were not as well off as their mothers at the time of the last interview, according to Mr. Furstenberg. He found that by 1984, the children of the women surveyed were “substantially worse academically, emotionally, and socially than the children of women who had their first child after the age of 20.”
More than half of the children had repeated a grade in school, and nearly half had been suspended from school in the five years preceding the 1984 interview. The study notes that a large portion of these children admitted to regular use of drugs and about 16 percent had run away from home at least once.
The study, which was co-directed by Jeanne Brooks-Gunn of the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, N.J., and S. Philip Morgan, also of the University of Pennsylvania, makes several policy recommendations.
The authors recommend that communities provide teen-agers with health-care and family-planning services, and that teen-age mothers have access to high-school programs involving instruction, counseling, and child-care education. They also endorse school-based health and family-planning clinics and education programs designed to help adolescents exercise more control over sexual decisions.