Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Bristol Palin By the Numbers

It's been a while since I've posted here. Got to get back to it.

I do not look down on Bristol Palin. She had the disadvantage of a poor sex education probably caused by her mother's ideology but she has the advantage that her mother has a good, if after the last weekend dead-end, career. She also has magnificent access to services (who wants to piss off a Governor known for abusing authority to get people fired) and, unfortunately, she's being presented as the model of virtuous teenaged womanhood for bearing her child to term.

She is not a role model we can afford to have splashed on screens everywhere, not for ideological reasons but for sheer facts. This from Janet Currie via Freakonomics:

  • Bristol Palin is not alone. She is one of 750,000 American girls ranging in age from 15 to 19 who will likely become pregnant this year. It would be unfortunate if media reports about high-profile people like Ms. Palin help legitimize teen pregnancy.
  • Given the decision to carry her pregnancy to term, Ms. Palin’s available resources and support will give her the best possible chance of a good outcome. But on average, teen pregnancies are more likely to result in premature births and low-birth-weight babies. This is not a good start in life. Babies with a low birth weight are more likely to have A.D.H.D. and are less likely to graduate from high school.
  • Teen moms are less likely than other women to attend or complete college, and their marriages are more likely to end in divorce; about 50 percent of women who married younger than age 18 are divorced after 10 years, compared to 20 percent of women who married at age 25 or older. In turn, single mothers have the highest poverty rates of any demographic group, and 60 percent of the U.S.-born children in mother-only families are poor.
  • Statistics are not destiny, and one can only hope Ms. Palin has a healthy baby, a long and happy marriage, and a sense of fulfillment as a homemaker, a career woman, or both. But the fact remains that for most women, a teen pregnancy considerably diminishes the odds of any happy ending.
  • High teen pregnancy rates remain a serious problem in the U.S. Although they have declined since they peaked in 1990, rates are still twice as high as in Canada or England, and eight times as high as in the Netherlands or in Japan.
  • These international differences are due to low contraceptive use in the U.S.; most of the recent decline in teen pregnancy in the U.S. is due to more consistent use of birth control, although teens are also waiting longer to have sex than in the past. In 1995, almost 20 percent of girls had sex by age 17, compared to 15 percent in 2002. Let us hope that attempts to normalize situations like Ms. Palin’s do not help to reverse this trend.

Some observations, not to Ms. Palin's liking:

  • Abstinence-only education does not work. Her own daughter is a case in point.
  • Contraception is the only known way to limit or prevent abortions; however, if conception begins at birth, contraception is abortion and is to be outlawed.
  • Since they don't want contraception and they don't want abortion and they want to preach abstinence-only despite its failure, I can only conclude the Right is anti-sex, although Ms. Palin appears to have enjoyed (or tolerated) it at least five times.
  • Statistically, teen mothers have it bad throughout life. They're less educated, the babies are more likely to be underweight at birth, they're more likely to have economic problems through life.
  • Statistically there are always exceptions: Palin with her support network and successful mother will most likely be one. Lance Armstrong was one. There are people without high school educations making over $100,000 per year. They are rare.
  • Single mothers have the highest poverty rate of any demographic group.

I'm not advocating abortion. I'm advocating prevention, the use of our God-given intelligence and a few fortuitous chemical reactions in the body to prevent unwanted pregnancies. I advocate sex education in schools, fact-based and frank, to give women like Bristol Palin the tools they need when abstinence fails. I'm advocating the morning-after pill, readily available and pulling the licenses of pharmacists who refuse to sell contraceptives. I'm advocating a fact-based approach to reducing abortions in this country.

Unfortunately it's not faith-based, as Bristol Palin's education must have been. She and her baby will most likely do well. 750,000 other teen mothers and their children have a much lesser chance of doing so. And given the Right's refusal to provide aid to those mothers and children, indeed their tendency to ignore them until they're old enough to enlist, I dub the Right the party of Right to Birth.

And here's a link to what the average teen mother can expect from life. And that's why we can't have Bristol Palin paraded before the country as a paragon of virtue and an example for teens.

Links to the original Freakonomics blog post here, including links to Janet Currie's papers.

Cross-posted from A Colorado Progressive.


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