A new study found it’s no accident that many black teenagers are getting pregnant in the inner city.
Nearly one-quarter of the 14- to 18-year-old black girls who participated in a research project in Birmingham said they wanted to have a baby, and their desire had little to do with having a boyfriend. Instead, the study found, many girls paired up with men far older than themselves or had casual sex with younger men hoping to get pregnant.
The lead author of the study, published in the August edition of the journal Health Education & Behavior, said researchers were shocked by the findings.
“The whole thing took us by surprise,” Susan L. Davies, who teaches public health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said Friday.
Initially, researchers set out to find out why the AIDS virus was spreading so rapidly through inner city areas, which are virtually all black. As part of a 268-question survey administered in 1999, black teens were asked whether they wanted to get pregnant.
Of 455 girls who participated in the study, Davies said 107, or 23.6 percent, responded that they wished they were pregnant. Many of them had their dream come true: Follow-up work found that 80 of the girls, or 18 percent, were expecting within six months of completing the survey.
Researchers didn’t look at why the girls wanted to get pregnant, but past studies have suggested that young women sought babies so someone would love them or so they would have someone to love. Studies also have suggested that young women wanted children to heal scars from their own childhood or to be independent of their families.
Davies suspects that inner city girls, most of whom are poor, see pregnancy as a way to avoid going to work in low-paying, dead-end jobs.
“I think it’s kind of appealing for girls who don’t see a lot of positive future options,” she said. Young, black women need more opportunities, Davies said.
Also, many programs encouraging teen sexual abstinence have focused on condom use primarily as a way to prevent the spread of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Those messages apparently aren’t getting through to girls who don’t see any drawbacks to getting pregnant.
“I think (we need) to do a better job of helping them realize the breadth and depth of the responsibility of having a child,” said Davies.
State statistics show black teens having babies at more than double the rate for white teens in 2002 in Jefferson County, where the study was conducted. Black women ages 18 and 19 got pregnant at almost twice the rate of older women from 1995 through 2002.