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Unwed teenagers have babies at a higher rate in America than virtually anywhere else in the industrialized world, according to a RAND Corp. study released this past week.

In 1985, the study said, 280,000 unmarried women under the age of 20 had babies, accounting for 7 percent of the national total and 34 percent of all births to single women.When children have children, it's "not simply an accident," according to the authors, who surveyed 13,000 high school sophomores nationwide and compared the responses of those who gave birth out of wedlock with those who did not.

At ages 15 and 16, girls who said they would or might consider having a child out of wedlock were two to three times more likely to have one in the next two years than those who said they wouldn't consider it.

"Where personal motivations exist for not getting involved with early unwed childbearing, young women manage not to," the report said.

The researchers, Allan Abrahamse, Peter Morrison, and Linda Waite, said one strategy for reducing rates of single childbearing is to heighten teenager's awareness and perceptions of what they stand to lose by becoming unwed mothers. Conscious rejection could also be nurtured through programs designed to raise girls' aspirations for the future, the report said.

Also cited as significant influences were quality relationships with parents, peer attitudes, and religious commitment.

The RAND study again suggests that self-control, not birth control, is the answer to curbing teen pregnancy. If parents, teachers, and other youth leaders will help teenagers think through the consequences of their actions, teens will reject the idea of children out of wedlock.