Studies Suggest Poor Reading Skills Influence Teen Pregnancy
The effects of poor reading skills in children are many and vary from low self-esteem to difficulty taking tests and exams. While these complications may sound vague and even unimportant, you should consider this: in 2001, the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) indicated that approximately 40 percent of the nation’s fourth graders could not read at a basic level. Since that time, national average reading scores for this age group have improved by just four points.
Reading Skills and Teen Pregnancy
As reading performances continue to suffer in America, a correlating problem is also gaining recognition. Seventh grade girls who have trouble reading are more likely to get pregnant in high school than average or above-average readers, according to a 2012 study from Philadelphia. Researchers found that pattern was consistent even after taking into account the girls’ race and poverty in their neighborhoods, both of which are tied to teen pregnancy rates.
University of Pennsylvania researchers looked at the reading skills of more than 12,000 girls when they were in grade 7 (average age 11.9 years) and then checked to see how many of them gave birth during their teen years. They found that girls with below-average reading skills in seventh grade were 2.5 times more likely to have children as teenagers than those with average reading skills. The link between teen pregnancies and poor reading skills was even stronger among Hispanic and black girls, who were more likely to have below-average reading skills.
The Social and Economic Impact of Teen Pregnancy
In 2011, a total of 329,797 babies were born to women aged 15 to 19 years, according to information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While this number is down from 2010, teen pregnancies continue to carry significant social and economic costs. Here are some statistics:
- In 2008, teen pregnancy and childbirth accounted for nearly $11 billion per year in costs to U.S. taxpayers for increased health care and foster care, increased incarceration rates among children of teen parents, and lost tax revenue because of lower educational attainment and income among teen mothers.
- Only about 50 percent of teen mothers receive a high school diploma by 22 years of age, versus approximately 90 percent of women who have not given birth during adolescence.
- Children of teen mothers are more likely to have lower school achievement, drop out of high school, be incarcerated at some time during adolescence, have more health problems, and face unemployment as a young adult.
In terms of reading skills, researchers believe adolescent girls who continually experience failure in the classroom may feel their futures will hold the same lack of success. They may thus feel inclined to partake in risky behavior. Another possible explanation for the link between reading skills and pregnancies is this: girls who are rejected in the classroom may believe a baby will provide them with feelings of acceptance and achievement.
Because poor reading skills drive teen pregnancies, health care and school officials must give knowledge of sexual issues to adolescents. They must also strive for higher literacy rates, according to researchers, and find ways to improve reading. But the study’s authors say help must go one step further, beyond the typical sexual education classes of today. Educational programs must be of higher quality and provide students of all races with equal opportunities to grow and succeed. Such programs are just as important as instilling the need for abstinence.