In the most comprehensive study to date on the effects of teenage pregnancy, a group of scholars has calculated that taxpayers this year will spend nearly $7 billion to deal with social problems resulting from recent births to girls under the age of 18.
The study, sponsored by the Robin Hood Foundation, a New York charity, is the first that tries to isolate the costs of adolescent pregnancy. It was being made public on Thursday at the White House, where President Clinton was highlighting a $30 million program in his 1997 budget for prevention of teenage pregnancy.In the past, studies of teenage pregnancy have compared the lives of women who gave birth to their first child during their teen years with women who did not. As a result, such studies often compare young girls of wildly different economic, educational and social backgrounds.
In contrast, the new study looks at the consequences for teenage mothers, their children and the fathers of the babies, compared with people from the same social background when pregnancy was delayed until the woman was 20 or 21.
To determine the costs of such pregnancies, the researchers looked at the differences over the past 13 years between welfare payments to teenage mothers and the other mothers, as well as at the use of publicly financed health care, abuse and neglect cases that resulted in a child being placed in foster care, and prison incarceration rates for the children born to teenage girls.
The study found that teenage childbearing cost the United States an additional $2.2 billion annually in welfare and food-stamp benefits, $1.5 billion in medical-care costs, $900 million in increased foster-care expenses and $1 billion for additional prison construction.
In addition, the study concluded that governments lose about $1.3 billion a year in tax revenue from the reduced productivity of women who bear children as teens.
"That's $7 billion a year that's going right out the window," said Rebecca Maynard, professor of Education and Social Policy at the University of Pennsylvania who was the chief editor of the study. "We could spend $7 billion to fix this problem and end up no worse or better off financially."
Sociologists who conducted the study say its calculations are conservative since they only looked at the result of childbirth for girls under 18. As a group, they give birth to 175,000 children each year. All told, about 500,000 children a year are born to girls 15 to 19, 72 percent of them unmarried.
To the surprise of social workers, however, the study found that teenagers gained no economic advantage by delaying childbirth until they were 20 or 21. Indeed, from the age of 19 to 30, those who have their first child as a young teen average higher incomes from welfare benefits, child-support payments from fathers, and earnings, than girls who put off having a baby until they are 20 or 21.