Adolescent pregnancy has been a topic of concern throughout history, with varying social and cultural attitudes toward it. In some societies, adolescent pregnancy was a common occurrence and was even considered desirable, while in others, it was strictly taboo. In recent times, there has been increased attention given to the issue of adolescent pregnancy, with efforts made to reduce rates of teen pregnancy and support young parents. In this essay, we will provide a historical overview of adolescent pregnancy, examining the cultural and societal attitudes toward it over time.
Historical Overview of Adolescent Pregnancy
Statistical information with reference to fertility patterns in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries reflects women marrying in their early twenties. Census data of the nineteenth century shows evidence of few teen marriages, with the majority of women becoming pregnant in their twenties. Marriage before the age of eighteen was generally prohibited by state law for teens to marry without parental consent.
The majority of data on teen childbearing became available in the early 1900s when vital statistics information was published on a regular basis by the government. Records reflect a consistent pattern of adolescent pregnancy during half of the twentieth century. However, no specific information is available as to how many births occurred among women under the age of eighteen.
The number of teenage births increased during the post-World War II period. A sharp rise was seen in the number of teenage marriages and a decrease in the median age of women experiencing their first birth). Oddly enough, public concern about the problem of adolescent pregnancy did not surface until the late 1950s.
The paradox is that at this point, teen parenthood had begun to stabilize. Early literature does not reflect any negativism attached to teenaged childbearing, as long as the individual was married at the time of delivery.
Beginning in the fifties there are indications in the mass media and writings of various professionals on the “undesirable consequences” of teen marriages. Much of this negativism surrounding adolescent marriages and childbearing paralleled the dwindling teen job market and the expansion of educational training (high school and college).
Educational training at the secondary level was seen as the key to white-collar jobs and the middle class. In the late fifties and early sixties, there was much public concern regarding the issue of adolescent parenthood which was reflected throughout social as well as educational journals that lend themselves to a somewhat unfavorable projection of the adolescent parent at this time.