Eighth-grade girls who think they have some control over their lives and who have high expectations for their future education may be less likely than their peers to become pregnant during high school, a new study suggests.
Girls with low confidence in themselves and their educational future, along with those whose parents have a low level of education, are among the most likely to become pregnant in their teens, say Tamera Young, M.S., and colleagues at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. Their research appears in the American Journal of Health Behavior.
“Based on the results of this study, it seems clear that efforts to reduce teen pregnancy must begin long before pregnancy becomes a risk for girls,” Young says.
“Encouraging and supporting academic success among younger girls” and “helping young people realize their own power in determining their future” could make a dent in teen pregnancy rates, she adds.
To find out what factors could be used to predict teen pregnancies, the researchers analyzed data from a nationwide sample of eighth-grade girls who were surveyed again in 10th and 12th grades.
The girls were asked about their feelings of self-control, future education and employment goals, their parents’ education and occupational levels and whether their parents had high educational expectations for them, among other questions.
As with previous studies, the researchers found that girls who grew up in poverty were more likely to become pregnant during high school, but it was not “financial poverty, per se,” that was mostly closely linked to the likelihood of pregnancy.
Factors like low levels of parent education and less expectations for their daughter’s own education, which are often correlated with poverty, “make the real difference,” Young says.
In the United States, 800,000 to 900,000 teens become pregnant each year. In a 1999 survey, 6 percent of high school students said they had become pregnant or had gotten someone else pregnant during their high school years.