The United States has the highest rate of teen pregnancy among developed nations, and its prevalence is even higher among black teens. But a new study has now found that African American students can have lower rates of teen pregnancy if they have black teachers.
The study, "Going Beyond Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic," published in the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, follows up on earlier findings on the impact of minority representation on an organization or community, and looks at schools in Georgia.
It compares teacher representation in high schools and the reported pregnancy rates by district, based on data from public schools in Georgia from 2002 to 2006.
The study, by researchers Danielle Atkins and Vicky Wilkins, found that a district could reduce pregnancies among black teens by six per 1,000 students with just a 10 percent increase in African-American teachers. "However, once a district reaches a threshold level of 20–29 percent African-American teachers, we observe a significant decrease in African- American teen pregnancy rates (18.8 fewer pregnancies per 1,000)," it adds.
The study underlines the importance of role models who can bring positive change among those who identify with them.
However, the percentage of white teachers does not have a bearing on pregnancy rate among white teens, the study notes.
"Our discussions convinced us that, although any teacher can serve as a role model, African-American students seek out role models that look like them, particularly with regard to noneducational issues," the researchers say.
The rate of teen pregnancy in the United States is almost twice that of Great Britain, four times that of France and Germany, and over 10 times that of Japan. "The consequences of these behaviors on future health and economic outcomes can be devastating. The US taxpayers spend approximately $9.1 billion a year on teen pregnancy," the researchers noted based on another study.
Atkins and Wilkins also mention that 34 percent of girls get pregnant at least once before age 20, resulting in more than 820,000 teen pregnancies a year. Less than one third of teen mothers finish high school and only 2 percent graduate from college, they add.
"The child of a teen mother also faces serious challenges. Babies born to teenagers are more at risk for premature birth and low birth weight, raising the possibility of infant death, blindness, deafness, chronic respiratory problems, mental retardation, mental illness, cerebral palsy, dyslexia, and hyperactivity. Children born to teenagers are also at greater risk of neglect and abuse, have worse educational outcomes, and are less likely to receive adequate health care than children born to women over 20 years of age. Sons of teen mothers are more likely to serve time in prison, and daughters of teen mothers are more likely to become teen mothers themselves."
The researchers quote data from various sources, saying minority teenagers are at greater risk of becoming pregnant due to a lack of knowledge and contraceptive use.
"Twice as many white students than African-Americans or Latinas reported using birth control pills before their last sexual encounter. Familial relationships also play a critical role – both intrafamilial and extrafamilial. Research has found that the family structure, parent–child relationship, and socioeconomic status of the family all influence the sexual behaviors of teenagers. Similarly, peer pressure, the level and type of sex education, and quality of health services are shown to be important to the reproductive health of teenage girls. The norms and values of the community the young woman belongs to will also influence her sexual behaviors."