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Adolescent Parenthood

Adoption, Marriage, And Single Parenthood

Fewer than 4 percent of U.S. adolescents place their child for adoption (Bachrach et al. 1992). Adoption is less common among African-American or Hispanic unmarried mothers, whose extended family members have traditionally played an important role in helping to raise children born outside of marriage. Also, compared to adolescent mothers who keep their infants, those who choose adoption are more likely to be in school at the time, younger, come from higher socioeconomic status households, have more favorable attitudes toward adoption, hold more realistic expectations of and understanding about the consequences of parenthood, and perceive having more alternatives to early parenthood. Findings suggest that compared to those who keep their child, those who give their child for adoption are more likely to experience both short- and long-term socioeconomic benefits, even after controlling for preexisting differences (e.g., Donnelly and Voydanoff 1996). Overall, the latter are more successful in achieving a higher education, avoiding rapid subsequent pregnancy, and securing employment, and are less likely to be receiving welfare support than are those who keep the child. Although giving a child for adoption is associated with experiences of greater sorrow or regret concerning her parenting decision, adoption does not result in significant negative psychological consequences for the young mother.

Marriage is an alternative response to placing the child for adoption. In fact, in developing countries (e.g., Central and West Africa, South Asia) over half of all women under eighteen are married, often in response to out-of-wedlock pregnancy. In contrast, fewer adolescent pregnancies in industrialized countries result in marriage. For example, less than one-third of such births in the United States occur or result in marriage; young white mothers are most likely to marry, followed by Hispanics and African Americans. In general, studies suggest that the immediate benefits of early marriage for adolescent mothers include financial support from her husband and an expanded familial support system. These benefits tend to be outweighed by a truncated education for both young mothers and fathers that leads to underemployment and future economic hardship. Also, adolescent marriages are less stable and more prone to divorce than other marriages. The risk of dissolution of subsequent marriages also is higher when the first marriage occurs during adolescence.

Overall, the low incidence of adoption among adolescent parents and the disproportionate number of those who marry means that an increasing number of unmarried adolescents are raising children. In lieu of the general decline in the adolescent birthrate since the late 1950s, the proportion of nonmarital adolescent births has risen steeply. In 1998, nearly eight out of ten adolescent births in the United States occurred outside marriage. Still, the total number of births to unmarried women under twenty years represents less than one-third of the total number of births to all unmarried women—a shift since 1970, when half of nonmarital births occurred to adolescents. A similar pattern exists for adolescent fathers. When compared to all fathers of children born out-of-wedlock, estimates are that less than one-fifth of all nonmarital births are to young men under age twenty and slightly more than 60 percent are to men age twenty to twenty-nine. Similarly, estimates suggest large percentages of teen births occur outside marriage in other Western and European industrialized countries as well.

The consequences of nonmarital childbearing are discussed below. Although the research available has been predominantly based on U.S. samples, findings from non-U.S. samples suggest that these consequences are shared worldwide.

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Marriage and Family EncyclopediaPregnancy & ParenthoodAdolescent Parenthood - Trends In The United States, International Trends, Antecedents Of Adolescent Pregnancy, Adoption, Marriage, And Single Parenthood