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Social Support, Education Associated With Fewer Teen Pregnancies


New research shows teenagers are less likely to become parents before the age of 18 if they have strong family and community ties.

Public health researchers analyzed data collected from more than 9,000 American high school students. Follow-up surveys continued through their early twenties, looking at “social determinants” such as family structure and education. 

Julie Baldwin, professor of health sciences at Northern Arizona University, coauthored the study. “Feeling close to others in school, living in a two-parent home, and participation in volunteering or community service were all associated with a reduced chance of pregnancy,” she says. Finishing high school and enrolling in college also led to lower pregnancy rates.

The study’s lead author, Sarah Maness of the University of Oklahoma, says these social factors often are overlooked in programs designed to prevent teen pregnancy. Programs tend to focus on at-risk groups such as Hispanics and African-Americans, which have twice the teen pregnancy rates of whites. 

“One of the reasons for using a social determinants approach, “ Maness says, “is to look beyond race, ethnicity or geographic area to see what are these underlying factors that could be the true causes or true associations with adolescent pregnancy.”  

Teen pregnancies have dropped by at least 50 percent nationwide over the last two decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But Arizona’s rate remains higher than the national average, at nearly four percent.   

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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