What Are the Causes of Teenage Pregnancy?

Teenage pregnancy is defined as an unintended pregnancy during adolescence and teenage years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 194,377 babies were born in 2017 to 15 to 19 year-olds.

Some teens become pregnant due to peer pressure. (Image: 1BSG/iStock/GettyImages)

Teen Pregnancy Statistics

According to Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America, 91 percent of all pregnancies of 15 to 17 year olds are unintended.

Less than one half of all states mandate sex education and for those that do, the consent often falls on the parent, leaving many young teens uneducated about sexual intercourse, the female reproductive system, and outcomes of unprotected sex — to include pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

Causes of Teenage Pregnancy

While there are many factors that influence teenage pregnancy rates, the number one cause for teenage pregnancy will never change — unprotected sex. The United States saw a drop in teen pregnancy of 7 percent from 2016 to 2017, but the U.S. number of teen pregnancies is still higher than in most industrialized countries.

The drop was seen across all racial groups, but there are still disparities that make some girls more susceptible to others. The CDC reports that of those teenagers who engaged in sexual intercourse, 46 percent did not use a condom and 14 percent did not use any method to prevent pregnancy.

Reasons for Teenage Pregnancy

While there is one cause contributing to unintended pregnancy, there are many reasons for teenage pregnancy. When looking at the statistics for teen pregnancy, the reasons leading up to a teen having sex must be addressed to get to the heart of the issue.

Peer Pressure

During adolescence, teenagers often feel pressure to make friends and fit in with their peers. Often, peers have more influence over teenagers than the parent, even if the relationship with parent-child is good. Many times these teens let their friends influence their decision to have sex even when they do not fully understand the consequences associated with it.

Peer pressure has the potential to cloud good reasoning skills and engage in risk-taking behavior that might not otherwise be present. Teenagers may have sex as a way to appear cool and sophisticated, but in some cases the end result is an unplanned teen pregnancy. Psychology Today indicates that one-third of boys feel pressured to have sex, compared with 23 percent of girls.

Family Dynamics

Teen girls are more likely to get pregnant if they have limited or no guidance from their parents. When a teen does not feel that she can talk to her parents about sex, either because they forbid sex talk or because they are not around, she will more than likely turn to friends for direction on whether or not to have sex. This can result in misinformation and possible teen pregnancy.

In addition, daughters of teenage mothers were 51 percent more likely to become pregnant as a teen, according to research published in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth. Girls between the ages of 14 to 19 were at 3 times higher risk for teenage pregnancy when they had an older sister with a teenage pregnancy. This indicates the influence of family members on adolescent and teenage girls specifically.

Glamorization of Pregnancy

The allure of being pregnant is more of a modern reason for teen pregnancy. With most of teen pregnancies being unintended, there are some that are not. The movie industry and the media contribute to teenage pregnancy by glamorizing teen pregnancy in news stories and movies. Movies that depict teen pregnancy as something to be desired encourage teens to engage in reckless sexual activity, according to ABC's "Good Morning America."

During adolescence, teens become more focused on their appearance and how their peers perceive them. They want to be seen as part of the group, so if teen pregnancy is viewed as acceptable in their school or amongst their friends, they may seek to become pregnant as a way to gain social acceptance.

Popular shows like MTV's Teen Mom dramatizes the lives of teen moms as they work through relationships, pregnancies, and motherhood as young women. This could put a false expectation on teenage girls that their life may be depicted as a carefree television show to gain attention and social media followers.

Lack of Knowledge

Teenagers who are uneducated about sex are more likely to have an unintended pregnancy. Some teens do not fully understand the biological and emotional aspects associated with having sex, according to The Daily Record.

These teens may get incorrect information from friends, videos, sitcoms and/or movies. Many times, teens do not have the knowledge needed to make informed and responsible decisions about whether or not to engage in sexual activity and the consequences thereafter.

It is not only the teenage girl who needs to be educated about sex and how pregnancy occurs, but boys also. The CDC recommends that all teens between the ages of 11 to 15, depending on sexual maturity have a reproductive visit with their healthcare provider. In this visit, the provider can counsel on the benefits of delaying sexual activity, contraceptive options, and give the child the opportunity to ask questions in a safe and open environment with correct and concise answers.

Sexual Abuse or Rape

Teens can become pregnant as a result of sexual abuse or rape. The Guttmacher Institute states that girls who experienced sexual abuse were three times as likely to be pregnant before the age of 18. The damaging psychological abuse can make a teen more susceptible to becoming pregnant.

Low self-esteem, promiscuity, and decreased locus of control are all reasons why some teenagers are more likely to become pregnant.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse by anyone can cause an unintended pregnancy, but for teens, drug and alcohol abuse can have lifelong consequences. Drinking lowers a teen's ability to control their impulses and research has linked substance abuse to risky sexual behavior. The CDC reports that 19 percent of teens who had sex used drugs or alcohol before engaging in sexual intercourse.

Not only does alcohol and drug abuse lower inhibitions for the teen, but it also impairs their adherance to contraceptive methods, such as condoms and birth control. Research published in Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America indicates that drug and alcohol abuse can lead to failure to recognize an unplanned pregnancy, a delay in prenatal care, and health risks for mom and baby.

Socioeconomic Status

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists indicate that teenage pregnancy is more prominent among adolescents who are at an economic disadvantage. Research published in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth found girls living in lower income neighborhoods with older sisters who became pregnant as teens, put them at greater risk for teenage pregnancy. Conversely, researchers found lower rates of teen pregnancy in more prosperous areas of their study.

The CDC cites the reasons for lower income teens at a higher risk for pregnancy as income inequality, education, neighborhood disorder, racial segregation, and fewer opportunities for positive youth programs. Geography also seems to play a role in teen pregnancies, with southern states having higher rates than the northern U.S., specifically New England states. In 2016, Arkansas had the highest birth rates of teens aged 15 to 19, with Massachusetts having the lowest.

Barriers to Contraception

For teens that have decided to become sexually active, there may be barriers to obtaining or using contraception. One of the biggest barriers is access to healthcare and the cost of birth control. If the parent or child does not have health insurance or immediate access to a medical provider, it may not be possible to obtain long acting methods of birth control, such as an IUD, which also requires a medical appointment.

For birth control, other than condoms, there may be side effects associated with use and this may cause concern for the teenager and parent.

Negative feelings about contraception between the teenager and her partner can be a significant barrier to preventing an unwanted pregnancy. Poor communication and partner resistance to birth control are cited as additional reasons by the Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America.

Teenage Mothers

When a young women begins her period and even before, she begins to ovulate, which means she is able to get pregnant. Just because an adolescent CAN get pregnant, does not mean it is safe to get pregnant. According to the American Pregnancy Association, girls who are pregnant before the age of 15 run the risk of having pre-mature birth or low birth weight infants, high blood pressure, anemia, and nutrient deficiencies.

Think you might be pregnant? First talk to a trusting adult and find out for sure. There are few signs immediately that indicate pregnancy, usually a missed period is the first sign, which can be 2 to 3 weeks into a pregnancy.

The Mayo Clinic suggests waiting more than one week to do a pregnancy test. The body produces a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) and that is what the pregnancy test is testing for. It can take weeks after fertilization for HCG to be high enough to detect.

Headaches, cramping, fatigue, and nausea are early symptoms of pregnancy you may be experiencing. If you have any of these symptoms and you've missed a period, speak with a parent, trusted adult, teacher, or call your doctor. Early prenatal care can ensure a healthy pregnancy for mom and and baby.

What Can Be Done to Reduce Teenage Pregnancy?

The CDC found that only 65 percent of girls and 53 percent of boys had received any type of formal sex education on both abstinence and contraception. Even lower, 44 percent of girls and 27 percent of boys have had a conversation with their parents about sex, abstinence, and birth control. Adolescents and teenagers at the highest risk for unplanned pregnancy should be the target for education and support.

Not only should youth be educated on abstinence and contraceptives to prevent pregnancy, but also make the teenager's life a part of the conversation. Find out what their perception of risky behavior entails and discover new ways to reduce the amount of risk taking activities in regards to substance abuse and sexual behavior.

Life and education goals, healthy and safe relationships, and planning for the future should also be topics addressed in a mature and helpful way. If necessary, seek out community or faith based programs that can help in fostering a nurturing and non-judgmental voice on the subject.

Reducing the first unwanted pregnancy for a teenager is often the focus, but here are teens who have multiple unwanted pregnancies. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services indicates that 1 in 6, or 17 percent of births to all 15 to 19 year old girls is a subsequent birth, meaning the teen has already been pregnant at least once. Government programs are available for teen moms and dads who are struggling with multiple teen pregnancies.

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