TEENAGE PREGNANCY AND ADOLESCENT RISK-TAKING: THE INFLUENCE OF ALIENATION, FEMINIST IDEOLOGY, CONTRACEPTIVE ORIENTATION, SOCIOECONOMIC STATUS, AND TRADITIONAL/FUNDAMENTALIST RELIGION UPON THE ADOLESCENT WOMAN'S DECISION WHETHER TO CONTRACEPT
The prevalence of teenage pregnancy in the United States today is described by some as having reached epidemic proportions. Early childbearing poses serious health, social, and economic consequences for teenage mothers and their children. Of special concern to the public is the fact that pregnancy rates have increased for the younger adolescents, those girls aged ten to fourteen. Some observers blame the general liberalization of sexual mores for this increase in younger adolescent pregnancy, while others argue that because of improved nutrition and health, it is the fecundity of adolescents that has increased rather than their sexual activity. Although teenage pregnancy in the United States has traditionally been a problem associated with minority groups and low-income families, in the last decade there has been a dramatic increase in pregnancy rates among white, middle-class teenagers. This fact refutes those who would explain teenage pregnancy solely in terms of race or poverty and has led to an increased public awareness of the problem of teenage pregnancy. Our interest in the topic focused on the social-psychology of the adolescent girl before she becomes pregnant. We asked, why does the teenage girl decide to take the risk of becoming pregnant? For answers to such questions we developed a middle-range theory which was influenced by the literature, particularly the work of Kristin Luker. Our theory holds that alienation, feminist ideology, contraceptive orientation, socioeconomic status, and traditional/fundamentalist religion were contributing factors in the girl's risk-taking behavior. We constructed five ideal types to describe how these variables interrelate to predict adolescent risk-taking. To test our theory we performed a secondary statistical analysis of quantitative data collected by Melvin Zelnik and John F. Kantner of Johns Hopkins University. In replicating Zelnik and Kantner's findings on teenage sexual and contraceptive behavior, pregnancy, childbirth, and abortion, we extended their analysis by controlling for family income. This measure of socioeconomic status appeared to be an important intervening variable in the relationship between race and teenage fertility behavior. Support for our theory was provided by the data analysis, through hypothesis-testing, and the performance of a path analysis. To present an overall verification of our theory, the ideal types were again discussed in light of the data analysis.