Thursday, October 12, 2006

Teenage birth rate variability revealed

This is a strange headline; Teen pregnancy linked to wealth
A better summation would be, teenage pregnancy linked to poverty. Also the article is mainly about teenage birth, not pregnancy. However, this is important information that I have been looking for. Other countries have established the link. Now New Zealand joins them.

The numbers

* 65.8 girls per 1000 aged 15-19 gave birth in the most economically deprived areas, classified as decile 10.

* 6.92 per 1000 gave birth in the most affluent areas, or decile one.

That is a massive variation. Yesterday one of Sue Bradford's supporters challenged Dalrymple saying, if girls get pregnant for the DPB why is the teenage birth rate going down? This is a common objection from the left.

Yes, overall the teenage birth rate is going down BUT we do not know that the teenage birthrate amongst the poorest, those most likely to choose or default to a welfare lifestyle, is going down.

Last year the overall teenage (15-19) birth rate was 27 per 1,000, the abortion rate was 25 per 1,000.

The fact that the overall teenage birthrate has dropped in no way disproves a link between the availability of welfare and teenage birth. The main reason for the drop over the past 20 or so years is clearly abortion. Teenage births peaked in 1972 at 69. But that was before legalised abortion and the morning-after pills. Unwanted births were much harder to avoid.

And why is teenage birth a cause for concern? Are you listening Tariana?

I will quote from the Christchurch Health and Development Study;

"Specifically, early parenthood has far reaching physical, social and emotional consequences including an increased risk of antenatal complications and mortality, failure to complete schooling, socio-economic disadvantage, welfare dependence, marital difficulties, maternal depression and less competent parenting. In addition, children born to teenage mothers have higher rates of health problems, physical injury, behavioural difficulties, cognitive problems, and educational under-achievement than children born to older mothers."


Lucyna said...

Lindsay, I don't think you can say the drop in births to teenage mothers from 1972 to now can be attributed to abortion.

From Marriage and Divorce in NZ
The shift away from early marriage has resulted in fewer men and women marrying in their teens. In 1999, only 665 teenage girls were married, compared with 8,717 in 1971. Teenage brides made up 32 percent of all brides in 1971, compared with just 3 percent in 1999.

As you can see, in 1971 it was common for teenagers to become brides and I dare say, common for those brides to have babies. The shift seems to be moreso in women overall not committing or having children while young.

Quibbler said...

Lindsay, you write:

“Yesterday one of Sue Bradford's supporters challenged Dalrymple saying, if girls get pregnant for the DPB why is the teenage birth rate going down? This is a common objection from the left.”

It’s not just a “left-wing objection” - there isn’t any evidence of a link between the availability of the DPB from the early 1970s and teenage childbearing trends that would suggest an incentive effect. In fact, as DPB uptake grew, both the number and the rate of teenage births declined.

The UK and NZ trends in teenage childbearing are rather similar. See, for example, Figure 5 in this paper published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, “Trends in teenage pregnancy in England and Wales: how can we explain them?”:

Note that among the events highlighted that might have influenced the trend in teenage childbearing, welfare availability doesn’t feature. However, pill scares and a measure to restrict access to contraception to under 16 year olds were associated with a rise in teen births.

IMO, Tony Daniels has done a pretty good job of discrediting his own arguments by the liberal use of hyperbole. I heard him say in a radio interview that “it is not uncommon” for a 14 year old to “intentionally get pregnant”. In fact, the pregnancy rate of under 16 year olds in England and Wales is only about 8 in 1,000, and more than half of them have terminations, leaving less than 4 per 1,000 as the maximum number who might arguably have “intentionally” got pregnant. To say it is "not uncommon" is a gross exaggeration.

Lindsay said...

Lucyna, I said the drop over the last twenty years or so (meaning after 1980) was due to abortion. I didn't intend from 1972.

Lindsay said...

Sorry Quibbler, I have heard too much anecdotal and first-hand evidence to accept that there is no link.

But here is a summary of US research. (For context I have included the first part). "The evidence of a link between the availability of welfare and out-of-wedlock births is overwhelming. There have been 13 major studies of the relationship between the availability of welfare benefits and out-of-wedlock birth. Of these, 11 found a statistically significant correlation. Among the best of these studies is the work done by June O'Neill for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Holding constant a wide range of variables, including income, education, and urban vs. suburban setting, the study found that a 50 percent increase in the value of AFDC and foodstamp payments led to a 43 percent increase in the number of out-of-wedlock births.(7) Likewise, research by Shelley Lundberg and Robert Plotnick of the University of Washington showed that an increase in welfare benefits of $200 per month per family increased the rate of out-of-wedlock births among teenagers by 150 percent.(8)

The same results can be seen from welfare systems in other countries. For example, a recent study of the impact of Canada's social-welfare system on family structure concluded that "providing additional benefits to single parents encourages births of children to unwed women."(9)

Of course women do not get pregnant just to get welfare benefits. It is also true that a wide array of other social factors has contributed to the growth in out-of-wedlock births. But, by removing the economic consequences of a out-of-wedlock birth, welfare has removed a major incentive to avoid such pregnancies. A teenager looking around at her friends and neighbors is liable to see several who have given birth out of wedlock. When she sees that they have suffered few visible immediate consequences (the very real consequences of such behavior are often not immediately apparent), she is less inclined to modify her own behavior to prevent pregnancy.

Proof of this can be found in a study by Professor Ellen Freeman of the University of Pennsylvania, who surveyed black, never-pregnant females age 17 or younger. Only 40% of those surveyed said that they thought becoming pregnant in the next year "would make their situation worse."(10) Likewise, a study by Professor Laurie Schwab Zabin for the Journal of Research on Adolescence found that: "in a sample of inner-city black teens presenting for pregnancy tests, we reported that more than 31 percent of those who elected to carry their pregnancy to term told us, before their pregnancy was diagnosed, that they believed a baby would present a problem..."(11) In other words, 69 percent either did not believe having a baby out-of-wedlock would present a problem or were unsure."

Quibbler said...

US data is of limited usefulness to understand the situation in New Zealand. For a start, the teenage birth rate is far higher in the US than it is here and the welfare system is stingier. If there was a strong correlation between welfare and teenage birth rates, you would expect New Zealand to have higher teen birth rates than the US.

To get back to your original post, you wrote:

“Yes, overall the teenage birth rate is going down BUT we do not know that the teenage birthrate amongst the poorest, those most likely to choose or default to a welfare lifestyle, is going down.”

Well, we can get a pretty good idea from these figures from Statistics New Zealand’s website (see row 64, Under 20 births and birth rates)
Fertility rates Maori and Total.xls (221 KB)

They show that the Maori teenage birth rate has gone down faster than the total teenage birth rate (Maori from 80 per 1,000 in 1996 to 67 in 2005; Total from 33 per 1,000 to 28 in 2005 – it doesn’t include non-Maori but this could be derived).

Since Maori teen mums are likely to be over-represented among the poorest, and more than half of teenage mums are Maori (53% in 2005), I think we can infer that the teenage birth rate among the poorest young women is going down.

Quibbler said...

One more point. You write:

“The fact that the overall teenage birthrate has dropped in no way disproves a link between the availability of welfare and teenage birth. The main reason for the drop over the past 20 or so years is clearly abortion.”

I don’t follow your reasoning here. The teenage birth rate has dropped, abortions have increased, while DPB numbers have declined. The most plausible explanation is that many young women are having abortions because they want to avoid being single mums on the DPB.

Note that I am not arguing that there is no link, ever, for anyone, so please don't throw up that straw man again. It's just that, like Tony Daniels, you tend to exaggerate.

Lindsay said...

Quibbler, If you read the article I linked to it mentioned an "abrupt change" to the high teenage birth rate in the decile 10 areas. There is a degree of ambiguity here. Does that mean within the socio-economic levels or over time? So I contacted the researcher (before posting my comment). She clarified that the tendency for the teenage birthrate to climb from the most affluent to the least affluent areas was gradual until the last decile and then there was an abrupt jump. Therefore the teenage birth rate in the most deprived areas could be climbing. In the absence of time series information I do not know.

Yes US teen pregnancy is much higher but births are trending down. The feature of higher rates among minorities is consistent with NZ which is why I find their research useful.

You now say you are not denying a link but have pointed out there is no evidence. I believe there is a link and counter that there is evidence.

I have also been thinking about your comment re Mr Daniels. You say he said it was not uncommon for a 14 year-old to get pregnant intentionally.

On both occasions I heard him speak he was excruciatingly careful to point out he speaks from his experience and his considerable sample. He cannot then be expected to preface every comment to that effect.

spam said...


We lived in the UK for a few years, during which my wife was working for various councils. One thing she became aware of was that many young teenage women were getting themselves pregnant intentionally, because it bumped them up the waiting lists for council houses. They may not have been as young as 14, but she said that it was certainly 'common'.

Quibbler said...

Lindsay, ask the researcher to tell you what proportion of teenage births occurred in high deprivation areas – I’d guess the vast majority. Change in this group will be reflected in the overall rate. Therefore, if overall teenage birth rates have declined, it is reasonable to infer that they have declined among young women in the most deprived areas.

Mr Daniels made the comment I referred to, and other exaggerations, in an interview with Kathryn Ryan on Nine to Noon. My main objection to his arguments is that he generalises from his experience with a highly select sample.

Brian Smaller said...

I suggest that on any fine Tuesday or Thursday in Wainui or Naenae you go for a drive around and see how many young women are pushing prams down to the shops.

Lucyna said...

Ah, sorry, Lindsay. I suppose it was because the two sentences were together lead to my thinking that you were implying abortion was responsible for the period prior extending back to 1971. I wouldn't be surprised if the stats for bad outcomes for children to teenage mothers now are not so much related to being teenage mothers, but more related to the combination of teenage mothers being far more likely to have children when there isn't a stable partnership in place and those same teenage mothers also immediately go on welfare.