Ity among teens and result in even higher rates of

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ity among teens and result in even higher rates of teen pregnancy and births (Luker, 2006). But surely the dramatic differences we see in pregnancy, abor- tion, and birth rates when we compare the United States to west European countries do not support such beliefs (Santelli, Lindberg, Finer, & Singh, 2007). Furthermore, American teenagers seem to have inherited the worst of all possible worlds regarding their exposure to messages about sex. Movies, music, radio, and TV tell them that sex is romantic, exciting, and titillating; premarital sex and cohabitation are familiar ways of life among the adults around them; and their own parents or their parents’ friends are often divorced or separated but involved in sexual relationships. In spite of this, adults continually send teens the message, “Good girls should just say no” to the expected sexual advances of boys and young adult males. Almost nothing that they see or hear about sex informs them about contraception, the impor- tance of avoiding pregnancy, and the responsibility of both females and males in sexual activity (Agnvall, 2006; E. Jones et al., 1985; Kisker, 1985). Large numbers of American youth do manage to navigate successfully through what Luker referred to as the “reproductive minefield of extended adolescence” without experiencing (or causing) pregnancy, making decisions about abortion, or bearing children in or out of wedlock (1991, p. 79). How do these teens differ from those who are not successful? Although many who move through the period unscathed are less sexually active and in some cases even abstinent, many others are sexually active but take care to avoid preg- nancy or, if they become pregnant, rely on abortion. Let’s return now to the issue of poverty, which is so often the central factor for the social problems of children. In the United States, teen birth- rates are highest for those who have the greatest economic disadvantages. Interestingly, in the debate about teenage pregnancy, this general finding Copyright ©2018 by SAGE Publications, Inc. This work may not be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means without express written permission of the publisher. Draft Proof - Do not copy, post, or distribute
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334 PART FOUR: Children, Social Problems, and the Future of Childhood is often interpreted to mean that teenage childbearing causes poverty, rather than the other way around (see Kearney & Levine, 2012, for a review of the literature on this issue). The next step in this way of thinking is that many welfare programs that provide assistance for unmarried mothers create a financial incentive for young poor women to bear chil- dren outside of marriage. Thus, welfare policies themselves cause poverty (Murray, 1984). Let’s begin with the second part of the argument—that welfare policies contribute to high rates of teen pregnancy and births. First, such an argu- ment clearly is not supported by the comparative data we discussed earlier.
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