The Myth of Teen Pregnancy

I listened to someone complain recently about the high rates of teen pregnancy. I wanted to beat my head against a wall. Teen pregnancy rates are very similar in 2018 to what they were in 1948. In 70 years, the rate of teen pregnancies hasn’t increased, the social understanding of it has changed.

From 6,000 BCE to 1965, marrying girls off at ages as young as 12 was common practice. The average time between marriage and the birth of the first child is 2 years. This means from 6,000 BCE to today, 14 year old girls have commonly been pregnant all over the world.

Among the poor, the acceptable age for a girl to marry is younger than among the wealthy, making brides of 8, 9, or 10 years old “normal.” This still happens even though we in the West like to shake our fists about it.

In 1948, a girl married and stopped going to school, it didn’t matter if she was 12, 14, or 18. And a pregnant married girl certainly didn’t go to school. Hell, it was considered problematic for a female teacher to become pregnant even if she was married, because the world was convinced it would entice her students to get pregnant (baby rabies).

The difference is in 1948, we didn’t have “teenagers.” People were children and then they were adults. There was no such thing as a teenager. A married, pregnant 14 year old was a woman, not a teen, not a child, a woman, an adult in charge of her household.

We lament pregnant 14 year olds today, not because “teen pregnancy” didn’t happen in the old days, but because teen marriage was the norm.

I’m always shocked when I read Pride & Prejudice because Lizzy and Jane are old!! Lizzy is 20 and unmarried! Jane is 21 and unmarried! Of course, their three younger sisters are out in society, they have got to start husband hunting, especially since Lizzy and Jane haven’t been very good at it. But oh ho, Lizzy and Jane are of the landed gentry, they are daughters of a nobleman. So perhaps they aren’t past their expiration dates, but only because they aren’t poor. If they were poor, they’d be married by 16… As a matter of fact, 4 of the 5 Bennett daughters would be married if they weren’t members of the nobility. And at 20 and 21, there would be some lamenting if children hadn’t come of either Jane nor Lizzy’s marriages by that age.

Where was I with this? Oh yes, teen pregnancy rates haven’t increased much in the last 100 years. Our perception of teen pregnancy has undergone a significant change as we understand teenagers better and no longer considering marrying off our kids at young ages.

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