Crone (2010, p.2) defines a social problem as a problem that “exists when people subjectively perceive and have empirical evidence to show that social conditions combine at a local, societal, or global level to cause personal problems.” There are some social problems that most of the members of the society feel disagreeable such as robberies, bank fraud, rape, and the like; and, there are other problems that only certain group of people regard as objectionable, for example, high school students might take it as their right or feel enjoyable in binge drinking but this is something that most of the society regards as a seriously displeasing issue. Thus, to call a problem a social problem, there should be a collective unwelcoming to the problem from most of the community. One such social problem is teenage pregnancy which has put the society into a dilemma of what to do with the mother and the unborn or born child, and how to treat with those involved. The increase in the rate of unwed teenage births weakens the integrity of a country. Research suggests that millions of teenage girls get pregnant in the United States every year most of which are those who did not use any contraceptive, as is found by Jewell, Tacchi and Donovan (2000) who asserted in their study that “young mothers revealed more difficulties getting access to reliable contraceptive services, and dissatisfaction with sex education in schools” (p.522). Gillham (1997, p.10) states that whether one sees teenage pregnancy as a social problem is entirely one’s own perspective. To some teenagers, getting pregnant would be a total disaster of their personalities if they want to step ahead in their professional lives; while, there are other teenagers who find themselves enjoying the situation.
According to Gillham (1997, p. 1), the perception that the out-of-wedlock teen pregnancies are increasing with every passing year is not correct. He asserts that 1991 saw “10,000” fewer teenage maternities than 1981, while the rate was higher in 1971 and was highest in 1961. Gillham however draws a line between conception rate and maternity rate, and states that since the increased use of contraceptive measures and high trend of pregnancy termination or, in other words, abortion, the conception rate has increased with passing years but the maternity rate has lowered. Research suggests that 4 out 10 girls get pregnant every year which makes up around one million of teenage girls in the United States. Gillham (1997, p.10) mentions a study according to which 23 percent of the participants of the study intended for pregnancy, and the rate has increased to 40 percent in a recent such study. Boonstra (2002) conducted a survey and the study revealed that the rate of unmarried childbirths in teenagers has increased “from 13 in 1950 to 79 in 2000”.
The increase in the rate of teenage pregnancy has given rise to the hot debate regarding public morality. The emphasis on morality has not made a drastic shift from teenage sexuality to no teenage sex at all, but actually it has given rise to safe sex with the use of contraceptive measures. Mothering on welfare (Breheny & Stephens, 2007; Phoenix, 1991, p.87) or issues like sexually transmitted diseases as AIDS (Teenage Pregnancy, 1999) has not compelled the teenagers to refrain from having sex; however, it has made them choosy about their sexual partners while using contraceptives. Although most teenagers do not give serious thought to AIDS but the debate on it has made it a public discussion. The society ignores the fact that the teenagers are not the ones who should be expected to make a revolution against teenage pregnancies; instead, they are the ones who are the recipients of this sexual inheritance from their forefathers. Moralists also overlook the fact that teenage pregnancies do not stand alone as a social problem but there are a number of social issues that are associated with them which include education, employment, politics, and socio-economic status. For example, as Murray (as cited in Silva, 1996, p.34) states, teenage pregnancy is higher among girls who are the offspring of lone mothers. Also, the girls who suffer from racial discrimination or who belong to the ethnic minorities (Higginbottom et al. 2006) belonging to lower class or “disadvantaged backgrounds” (Coleman & Cater, 2006, p.593), are more prone to get indulged in teenage pregnancies. Since women have started recognizing their sexual liberation, they have started keeping their sexuality separate from reproduction thus making their selves at equal opportunities in employment and politics.
There are many moral issues related to teenage pregnancies that need to be considered at the societal level. There is evidence in research that teenagers are not morally and emotionally ready to accept the responsibilities that come with teenage pregnancies nor they are morally able to choose their sexual partner or understand the intimacy of the relationship. The teenagers are pressurized from the society to bring out their sexualities and develop relationships at an age when they have not yet completed their education and are unemployed. Big credit goes to the mass media which has arose feelings of sexuality in teenagers through advertisements and shows that the teenagers see and fantasize ignoring the fact they are too young for it. The sexual urges cover themselves under the name of love and as a result a total demoralization of the society occurs when teenagers make each other sexual objects rather than citizens. Demoralization occurs when a teenager girl starts thinking about herself as a sexual commodity that should be readily available to man in all cases and should feel pleasure in providing pleasure to man and this is all that makes her attractive. If sexual morality becomes a preference, then the meaning of interpersonal love should be made clear to the teenagers and justice should be guaranteed equally to the whole society so that the factors linked to teenage sexuality do not become a stigma for the society.
Teenage Pregnancies and their Effects on Social Outcomes
Duncan (2007) conducted a research on the effects teenage pregnancies have on social outcomes and found that although teenage pregnancies are considered as a social problem which makes all those involved suffer morally, socially and economically, making them victims of low expectations and guilt- a fact also reflected in the New Labour’s teenage pregnancy strategy; however, in most teenage pregnancies, the social outcomes are positive in which the parents feel pride in staying connected with each other and the child. Teenage mothers often describe how their pregnancies and the childbirths have made them feel powerful and respectable. This is the fact also described by Gillham (1997, p.11) who has mentioned a study in which all the participants (teenage mothers) came from lower socio-economic status with deprived backgrounds and restricted life opportunities, but they felt pleased about their pregnancies and the way the childbirths had molded their lives. The study interviewed 533 teenage mothers twice with the gap of one year and the findings implied that nine out of ten teenage mothers were in good health condition; four out of five stated that they were offered adequate health facilities; three-quarters of them stated that their employment opportunities did not get affected; two-thirds were satisfied with their residence; and, most of them stated that the social outcomes were greater than they had expected because their lives were going smooth which made them wanting more children. Gillham states that although the picture was less pleasing in the next year of the study, still there were a great proportion of teenage mothers who were satisfied with their pregnancies and childbirths. Duncan (2007) affirms that teenage pregnancies motivate the parents of the child to pursue their education and struggle for employment which makes teenage pregnancy “more of an opportunity than a catastrophe”.
Policies for Supporting Teenage Parents
Kidger (2004) has talked about the New Labour’s Strategy as a part of the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy focusing on the opportunities offered to the teenager mothers to enter into better education and employment in order to avoid long term social exclusion. Kidger has however raised a point that should be taken from a moral perspective because he states that this social inclusion that is being offered to the teenage mothers through certain policies and strategies will make them want to have more teenage pregnancies which will increase the rate of unwed teenage relationships. This will make teenage pregnancies a valid option for female teens and the “social and moral elements of their exclusion” will be ignored which will add to the demoralization of the society. In one way, Kidger’s perspective is correct if we see it from the ethical point of view; however, it is also the responsibility of the government to provide the teenage mothers with full time heath facilities and employment opportunities to maintain them as responsible citizens of the country. This has also been supported by Giullari (2005) who conducted a study examining whether the New Labour’s Housing Strategy for Teenage Parents is actually supporting teenage pregnancies or controlling it. He examined “New Labour’s construction of teenage parents’ housing need as an issue of isolation from support” and asserts that this strategy is focusing more on controlling teenage pregnancies rather than supporting the teenage parents in getting independent welfare and housing to pursue autonomous living. He concludes that the New Labour’s strategy lacks the genuine desire to support teenage parents when they have the right to avail independent housing.
The Teenage Pregnancy Strategy (TPS) has been in effect in England since 1999 (Arai, 2009) and its clauses intend to reduce the rate of under eighteen conceptions to half and also to eliminate or at least reduce the social exclusion that the teenage mothers have to face. However, as Arai states, TPS also regards teenage pregnancy as problematic and blames it for giving rise to social problems. Researchers have argued upon this and have asserted that early motherhood can also be considered as a positive issue because teen parents usually express positive experiences after childbirth, as the research conducted by Arai implies.
The concept of teenage pregnancies has always been considered as undesirable in all ages (Holgate, Evans & Yuen, 2006). Social inequalities, injustice and late modernity have added to the perception of teenage pregnancy as being problematic, and this has given rise to the need of resilient mothering practices that teenage mothers should employ to take care of their children (McDermott & Graham, 2005). The working teenage mothers are compelled to mother in poor conditions along with experiencing social exclusion. Thus, they are left to utilize either the help from their families or their personal capabilities. They need to maintain kin relations and a strong mother-child dyad to gain the identity of a good mother. This makes young mother practices reflexive but controlled by social inequalities. Wilson and Huntington (2006) have discussed in their study how the passing decades have stigmatized the teenage pregnant mothers and what negative social outcomes they suffer from that make them undergo social exclusion and reduced opportunities in education, training and employment. They studied the sufferings of teenage mothers belonging to United States, United Kingdom and New Zealand and found that since the society has started considering teenage pregnancy as a problematic social problem, this perception has totally changed the lives of teenage mothers. According to them, a change in the perception of teenage motherhood along time has “stigmatised and marginalized” the image of teenage mothers. “Welfare dependency and social exclusion” are the two main points of consideration regarding teenage mothers. Wilson and Huntington have asserted in their study that:
teenage mothers are vilified, not because the evidence of poor outcomes for teen mothers and their children is particularly compelling, but because these young women resist the typical life trajectory of their middle-class peers which conforms to the current governmental objectives of economic growth through higher education and increased female workforce participation (p.59).
Another research by Yardley (2008) supports the study conducted by Wilson and Huntington. Elizabeth Yardley interviewed 20 teenage mothers in her research and studied the impact the stigma created on them and how they coped with the negative social outcomes. She found that young motherhood was esteemed in the culture of many families which contradicted with what the young mothers experienced in the outside society (p.671). Yardley suggests that the New Labour’s policy for teen mothers should be revised to include such interventions that directly address the needs of the young mothers and their children.
The paper discussed how teenage pregnancy is considered as a social problem and how this perception has made the teenage parents suffer. The increase in the rate of teenage pregnancies every year has given rise to the need of devising such strategies and policies that should not only control teenage pregnancies but also support the young parents in their education, training, healthcare, employment and residence. Teenagers from low socio-economic status or who are suffering from poverty or racial discrimination are more prone to developing illicit relations at a very young age and hence these factors, which include socio-economic status and racial discrimination, are directly associated with the issue of teenage pregnancy. The changed perception about teenage pregnancy regarding it as problematic has compelled the young parents go through social exclusion, ignorance and low expectations due to which they are often not enjoying goof life standards as their peers. However, researchers have found in their studies that many young parents are contented with their lives so much so that they want to have more children. Most of them are satisfied with how they are treated by the society, the healthcare facilities they avail, the education and employment opportunities they are offered, and the acceptance they enjoy from their families. Despite this contentment, the bitter truth is that the social problem of teenage pregnancy has put a stigma upon teenage mothers and fathers, and the policies regarding the support of teenage parents also have certain discrepancies that need to be addressed at governmental level.