Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Teen preganacy and marriage

What effect, if any, the teenage pregnancy of Sarah Palin's daughter will have on the presidential race is unknown, but it is clear that there is a fair amount of research on the issues of both teenage pregnancy and teenage marriage. We do know this much: Governor Palin has supported abstinence-only sex ed in the past and the campaign has said that the daughter will marry the father of the child. Most people have opinions on these topics; let's look at the research, instead, with two questions: Is abstinence-only sex ed effective? and What are common effects of teenge marriage?

In both cases, we should keep in mind that human behavior occurs in a large context. Decisions to have sex or to marry occur in the context of one's life. They are affected by family life, peer pressure, moral values, societal values and practices, culture, emotions, hormones. It is difficult to try to tease out one "cause" for any human behavior, but we are confident that a well-designed study can point us in the right direction.

The Washington Post reports today on a study that concludes that abstinence-only sex ed has no effect on teenagers' decisions to have sex.

Here's a link to the study itself: the study.

A quick Google search will provide many more examples of studies on the topic - some positive, others not. A critical thinker of course will evaluate the studies carefully - the samples, the research design, the biases of the researcher.

Generally research shows that teenagers who marry will face significant difficulties: lower lifetime earnings, more domestic violence. Again, though, age is not the only important variable. How mature and committed are these two? How much family support will they receive - both emotional and financial? Will they go to college or otherwise learn marketable skills?

It won't be easy for the girl to complete her pregnancy in the glare of a natinal political campaign. It is heartening, though, that both campaigns are treating the matter carefully, without demonizing the girl.


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