Bring Up Reading Rates to Bring Down Teen Pregnancy

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania released a new study that suggests if we want to lower teen pregnancy rates in the United States, we need to raise reading levels of young girls.

According to reports, researchers looked at reading scores of more than 12,000 girls enrolled in Philadelphia public schools and compared those scores to any pregnancies and subsequent births from the cohort. They found that girls with lower reading skills were 2.5 times more likely to give birth as a teen than those girls with average reading skills. Within the cohort, African-American girls and Latinas were more likely to have below average reading skills than their white counterparts and were also more likely to have given birth.

The study doesn’t conclude that low literacy rates are the main predictor of teen pregnancy, but they do help flush out some of the other predictors such as poverty, lack of access to birth control and abstinence-only sex education. The study’s authors put it this way. “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,” said Rosemary Frasso, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. “Our findings underscore the role of literacy as its own social risk factor throughout the life-course.”

Linking literacy with self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment and/or rejection helps us get to the larger, thornier problem when dealing with teen pregnancy and that is the extent to which our cultural devaluation of women and girls drives these rates. While teen pregnancy rates have hit an all-time low among all races and ethnicities, the disparities are still very real and very troubling.  Latinos still have the highest numbers of teen births with 55.7 births of every 1,000 babies born to a teen girl. African-American teenage girls are not too far behind with 51.5 births for every 1,000 births.

That means that in order to get serious about addressing teen pregnancy rates we need to get serious about addressing poverty and entrenched, structural racial bias that perpetuates these cycles. It means we need to start talking about poverty and teenage pregnancy as public health issues, not simply “social ills.” And most of all, it means we need to get serious about eradicating those forces in our culture that devalue young women, especially young women of color because the evidence is clear: when we invest in young girls, entire communities benefit. The returns are exponential.

Related Stories:

Mississippi To Make Teen Pregnancy Problem Worse

5 Ways Girls Inc. Is Helping Young Women Rise Above Teen Pregnancy

DOJ Challenges “School-to-Prison Pipeline” In Mississippi

Photo from Ian Wilson via flickr.


Kathy Perez
Kathy J4 years ago

reading will never lead youth astray :)

Amber Martingale
Angela Roquemore5 years ago

Me too, Tamara M.

Tamara Mendelson
Tamara Mendelson5 years ago

i have always loved reading

Mariana Rios
Mariana Rios5 years ago


Sandra Streifel
Sandra S5 years ago

When did we forget that children are our future, and investing in them, boys and girls, especially (because they are so easily pushed aside), is a hedge fund that can't lose. Reading for pleasure opens up a world of magic and wonder for kids, and makes their educations' goals possibilities soar.

R Maria O.

way to go girls!

Ram R.
Ram Reddy5 years ago


Richard C.
Richard C5 years ago

Educated people produce less children period.
But the children of educated are more likely to live longer lives and have success in life.

Sheri J.
Sheri J5 years ago

I live in a black and hispanic neighborhood and I agree the 2 cultures have more children than the white people. 20 years ago our neighborhood used to be predominately white and then they migrated up north.

paul m.
paul m5 years ago