I've always been amazed at the fact that the United States has such a high rate of teenage pregnancy. Although the numbers have been declining steadily in recent years, this country still has the highest rate among developed countries. But why?

According to a pair of economists who just published their research on this topic in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, income inequality is what truly drives teen birth rate. In other words, if you're poor and you live in an area with a great degree of income inequality, you're much more likely to give birth as a teenager.

This is surprising at many levels, but mostly because it challenges the long-held belief that teen pregnancy is what leads to poverty when these researchers are saying it's actually the other way around. According to Melissa Schettini Kearney and Phillip Levine girls who are already poor tend to have very little to look forward to and though they're not intentionally looking to get pregnant, they're not doing much to prevent it either. In other words, teen girls have low economic prospects so preventing pregnancy is not necessarily high on their priority list.

The most interesting part about this research is that it suggests that sex education, promoting abstinence or having access to contraceptives doesn't really make a gigantic dent in teen pregnancy rates as most of us have been led to believe. Sadly, the results of this research point to much more serious issues that won't be solved through sex-ed classes or by handing out condoms. We need to figure out a way to get these girls out of the cycle of poverty by helping them achieve goals worth looking forward to—especially within the Latina population. Otherwise, the teenage pregnancy rate in the U.S. will continue to be the highest among developed countries and the cycle of poverty will continue. 

What do you think we can do to give this girls something to look forward to? Let us know in the comments section. 

Image via johncoxphoto.com/flickr

About the author

Roxana A. Soto is a Staff Writer for MamásLatinas. She's a bilingual and bicultural journalist born in Peru and raised in Mexico, Argentina, South Africa and Miami. She's also mom to a first-grader and a preschooler. She loves languages, traveling and good food – especially if it's cooked by someone else.

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