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Center for Policy Studies
Public Affairs Discussion Group

The “Problem” of Teen Mothers

Mary Erdmans, Ph.D. - Associate Professor of Sociology at Case Western Reserve University

Friday April 4, 2014
12:30-1:30 p.m.
Dampeer Room
Kelvin Smith Library
Case Western Reserve University

Dear Colleagues:

Believe it or not, there is something about which both liberal and conservative political elites agree! Teen pregnancy, especially outside of marriage, is a problem.

At the Brookings Institution, the Center on Children and Families has long emphasized the importance of reducing teen pregnancy. In fact, after President Clinton signed the 1996 "Welfare Reform" legislation, Brookings Fellow Isabel Sawhill wrote that "teen pregnancy prevention" was "welfare reform's missing component." Sawhill had served as Program Associate Director for Human Resources in President Clinton's Office of Management and Budget from 1993-1995. A 2012 Brookings paper (CCF Brief # 47) declares that "evidence-based pregnancy prevention interventions are public policy trifectas: they generate taxpayer savings, they improve the lives of children and families, and they reduce the incidence of abortion."

At the Heritage Foundation, Robert Rector argues government policies should "help people to form and maintain healthy marriages and delay childbearing until they are married and economically stable." Conservatives focus somewhat more on marital status than age, but Rector criticizes "Permissive Sex Ed" for encouraging higher rates of teen pregnancy.

These concerns have led to extensive literature on how to solve or at least reduce the problem. In fact rates of unwed pregnancy among teenagers have declined substantially since the early 1990s. The U.S. teen birth rate (wed or unwed) fell from 61.8 births per thousand teen girls in 1991 to 40.2 in 2008, and then dropped to 29.4 births per thousand in 2012. There is a robust debate over causes - such as whether "abstinence only" education or other programs are best. There is pretty good evidence that MTV's 16 and Pregnant television show, along with its partner Teen Mom and Teen Mom 2 programs contributed to the recent decline.

In the midst of this debate about means, there remains some question about ends. Exactly how big a "problem" is teen pregnancy, anyway? There is a clear correlation between early childbearing and socioeconomic disadvantage. But does the former cause the latter? Is it wise or practical to focus on what might be more a symptom than a cause? Dr. Sawhill has acknowledged that some people argue that, "many of the women who have babies as unmarried teens would have ended up poor and on welfare even if they had married and delayed childbearing." But, she declares, "early out-of-wedlock childbearing greatly compounds the problem." Professor Erdmans' ethnographic research leads her to a different perspective.

All best regards,
Joe White
Luxenberg Family Professor of Public Policy and Director, Center for Policy Studies

About Our Guest

Mary Erdmans' areas of research are immigration and ethnicity (with a particular focus on Polish immigrants and white ethnics), life trajectories formed at the intersection of gender, class and race (with studies of white working-class women and adolescent mothers), and narrative research methods. Professor Erdmans is interested in how identities are constructed, the social, political and economic forces that influence their construction, and the narrative compositions of those constructions.

Her current work (with co-principal investigator Timothy Black), is based on life-story interviews with 108 adolescent mothers – black, white, and Latino, from poor to working-class families in Connecticut and explores the varying trajectories to young motherhood. Professor Erdmans and Professor Black argue that early childbearing has been largely decontexualized and reified as a social problem, and are working to recontextualize their lives by looking at the social conditions that shaped their life trajectories including child sexual abuse (2008), failing urban schools (2012), concentrated poverty, and violence against women. While numerous problems are correlated with early childbirth, Professor Erdmans and Professor Black argue that the focus on the timing of the birth distracts us from larger social problems that originate in systemic racial, class, and gender inequalities.

Where We Meet

The Friday Public Affairs Lunch convenes each Friday when classes are in session, from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. We usually meet in the Dampeer Room of Kelvin Smith Library. The Dampeer Room is on the second floor of the library. If you get off the elevators, turn right, pass the first bank of tables, and turn right again. Occasionally we need to use a different room; that will always be announced in the weekly e-mails.

Parking Possibilities

The most convenient parking is the lot underneath Severance Hall. We regret that it is not free. From that lot there is an elevator up to street level (labeled as for the Thwing Center); it is less than 50 yards from that exit to the library entrance. You can get from the Severance garage to the library without going outside. Near the entry gates - just to the right if you were driving out - there is a door into a corridor. Walk down the corridor and there will be another door. Beyond that door you'll find the entrance to an elevator which goes up to an entrance right inside the doors to Kelvin Smith Library.

Friday Lunch Upcoming Topics and Speakers:

April 11: Is the Federal Government's Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States Anti-Asian? With Timothy Webster, Assistant Professor of Law and Director, East Asian Legal Studies. ***Alternate Site: Mather House Room 100.***

April 18: Is Cleveland Dying?
With John A. Begala, Executive Director, Center for Community Solutions.

April 25: Pope Francis: So Far. With Paul V. Murphy, Professor of History and Director, Institute of Catholic Studies, John Carroll University
March 31, 2014

If you would like to reply, submit items for inclusion, or not receive this weekly e-mail please send a notice to:

Upcoming Events

An Academic Conflict: Pharma's Increasing Influence on Medical Education

Nida F. Degesys, M.D., President of the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), Tuesday April 8, 2014, 12:00 p.m.-1:00 p.m., Moot Court Room (A59), Case Western Reserve University School of Law, 11075 East Boulevard, Cleveland, OH 44106-7148. Sponsored by the The Elena and Miles Zaremski Law-Medicine Forum.

The line between pharmaceutical public relations and medical education is blurring. Many might think that the biggest cost that a pharmaceutical company incurs is from the research and development that is needed to bring a new medication to market. But a recent British Medical Journal (BMJ) study unveiled a far greater cost. Much of this cost is from direct marketing to physicians and physicians-in-training (medical students and residents) through small gifts like lunches, pens, prescription pads, samples, and continuing medical education credits. Moreover, industry sponsored clinical research increasingly influences the ways that physicians practice. But those studies are far more likely to have outcomes favoring the industry sponsor than studies with other sponsors. As a result, even “pharma” sponsored lunchtime lectures can greatly impact the prescribing patterns of physicians-in-training.

A JAG’s Perspective on Military Justice and Sexual Assault

Lieutenant Colonel Jeremy S. Weber, Monday April 14, 2014, 12:00 p.m.-1:00 p.m., Moot Court Room (A59), Case Western Reserve University School of Law, 11075 East Boulevard, Cleveland, OH 44106-7148. Sponsored by the The Elena and Miles Zaremski Law-Medicine Forum.

Lieutenant Colonel Jeremy S. Weber (CWRU, 1996) has been an active duty Air Force judge advocate for more than 17 years, where he has handled cases as a prosecutor, appellate counsel, staff judge advocate, and judge. Lt Col Weber will explain the development and purposes of the military justice system, and he offers his perspective on the balance the system seeks between the needs of justice and the needs of the military.

Economics, Business, and Eye Care

Kevin Frick, PhD, Professor and Vice Dean for Education, Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, Monday April 14, 2014, 5:30 p.m., Wolstein Research Building Auditorium, Case Western Reserve University. 2103 Cornell Road, Cleveland, OH 44106, Case Western Reserve University School of Law, 11075 East Boulevard, Cleveland, OH 44106-7148.

Want to Change the World? Start with YOUR City

Lee Fisher, former Ohio Lt. Governor, Ohio Attorney General, and Mandel School Alumnus, Wednesday, April 16, 3-4:30 pm, Mandel School, 11235 Bellflower Rd., Cleveland, OH.

Fisher, who currently serves as CEO of the national nonprofit CEOs for Cities, will discuss factors driving the success of cities in 21st Century America. An advocate for robust civic engagement, he is not shy about asserting the importance of individuals in making cities more effective in bringing about community change. His presentation also focuses on how understanding a city's distinctive qualities can maximize its potential in a global economy.

April 2014






































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