Pre-teen girls with low literacy levels are more likely to bear children during their teenage years than their peers with higher literacy, researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing explained Sunday at the American Public Health Association’s 140th Annual Meeting in San Francisco, California.
The researchers said that their findings, from research carried out in the USA, builds on previous studies that detected an association between teenage child bearing and social inequities globally. They suggest that independent of other factors, pre-teen low literacy is a strong predictor of teenage child bearing in the United States.
The researchers gathered and analyzed data from the Philadelphia Public Schools records involving 12,339 girls. Their average age was 11.9 years (seventh-grade).
They found that:
- Girls with poor literacy were 2.5 times as likely to have a baby during their teens, compared to their peers with good literacy.
- During the six-year assessment period, 21% of those with low literacy had a baby during their teen year.
- During this same period, 3% of those with low literacy had 2 or more babies during their teenage years
- 12% of those with average literacy had a baby during their teenage years
- 1% of girls with average reading skills had at least two babies when they were teenagers
- 5% of the good readers had a baby when they were teenagers
- 0.4% of the good readers had two or more babies during their teenage years
The researchers also looked into whether teenage child bearing varied according to race and ethnic groups. They reported that a higher percentage of pre-teen Hispanic and African-American girls have below-average reading skills, compared to other racial groups.
Rosemary Frasso, PhD, said:
“It is quite possible that adolescent girls who experience a daily sense of rejection in the classroom might feel as though they have little chance of achievement later on in life. findings underscore the role of literacy as its own social risk factor throughout the life-course.”
Health care professionals and providers who work with pre-teen girls should consider literacy when delivering reproductive health services, the researchers concluded.
In February, 2012, the Guttmacher Institute reported that teen pregnancy rates in the USA dropped to their lowest levels in 40 years, since peaking in the early 1990s.