30-year study confirms that living in economically-depressed neighborhoods, not teen motherhood, perpetuates poverty

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In fairy tales, there are two possible outcomes for a young girl. In the Disney version, the handsome prince rescues her, then marries her, and everyone lives happily ever after. In the dark version, the heroine makes a dreadful mistake that leads to disaster. For the past 15 years, political pundits have been telling us a dark fairy tale about American teens, blaming America's high poverty rates on the actions of teenage girls who have babies out of wedlock. This assumption guided the welfare reform act of 1996, which promised to write America a happy ending by getting teens to stop having babies, get married, and thus end poverty.

But a new longitudinal study by Frank Furstenberg (University of Pennsylvania) shows that fairy tales have no place in the realm of policy-making. His data reveal that teen childbearing is not the reason that many Americans have been trapped in poverty over the past three decades. In a discussion paper prepared for the 11th annual conference of the Council on Contemporary Families, Furstenberg reports that

*teen motherhood tends to occur among people ALREADY trapped in poverty

*postponing motherhood does not make much of a difference to people's chances of escaping poverty.

*Impoverished girls who bear children as teens do almost as well educationally and economically -- or as poorly -- as the girls who postpone childbearing.

Preventing and reducing teen pregnancy is a valuable social goal, says CCF Fellow Furstenberg. In fact the United States had a dramatic decline in teen pregnancies--and abortions--from 1991 to 2005. But, using observations from his Baltimore study, and supplementing it with current reports from demographers, economists, and demographers, sociologist Frank Furstenberg reminds us that the phrase, "it's the economy, stupid" is not yet out of date.

For details and policy recommendations, please read Furstenberg's full briefing report, below, or at www.contemporaryfamilies.org.

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