While there are many studies that highlight the irrational nature of teenagers’ decisions, a new study conducted by researchers at Duke University has just found evidence of the opposite. The study shows that when a community experiences job loss, fewer African-American teenagers have babies.
Christina Gibson-Davis is an associate professor of public policy, sociology and psychology and neuroscience at Duke and one of three authors of the study.
“We identified a causal association,” she said. “What our study shows is that teenagers are making rational decisions in response to job loss. There’s a common way of thinking that says teens have babies willy-nilly, that there’s not any forethought. But what our study shows is that they’re actually making a rational decision to not have children.”
Even though the teenagers are likely in school and are not being laid off themselves, they are responding to economic downturns in their community, Gibson-Davis says.
The study used economic data over a span of 20 years and compared county-level layoffs and business closings with teenage birthrates. They found that while job losses had little effect on the birth rates of white teenagers, birth rates in black teenagers decreased by about 2 percent starting five months after the layoffs and lasted for about a year.
“These kids are looking ahead,” Gibson-Davis says. “We don’t think the decline is caused by miscarriages because the affect is too large. The only way the rate can decline is if a woman changes her sexual behaviors or, once a woman is pregnant, through a termination.”
The researchers found that birth rate declined starting five months after job loss, which could be caused by a "change in the outcome of pregnancies that were already conceived when the job loss occurred," the study says. The study says that the mostly likely cause would be a change in the "termination rate" or abortion.
But the dip in teenage births that occurs over nine months after job loss could be caused by any one of three factors: teenagers using contraception, deciding not to have sex, or having more abortions. The bottom line is that there’s a conscious decision on the part of teenagers to not have children.
Gibson-Davis says that they couldn’t directly test why the birth rate declined in black teenagers and not in white teenagers, but she did cite other literature that could provide possible reasons.
“It could be that blacks tend to come from lower-income families and don’t have the same level of economic resources to support a child,” she said. “We also know that that job loss can disproportionately affect African-Americans and minorities.”
The study was published in the journal Demography.