, Volume 16, Issue 2-3, pp 207-237

Welfare and adolescent sex: The effects of family history, benefit levels, and community context

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To examine whether welfare serves as an incentive to early childbearing, this article explores the first steps in the process of becoming a teenage parent: risk of first voluntary sexual intercourse at an early age and, among teens having sex, contraceptive use at first intercourse. Alternative operationalizations of welfare include the AFDC benefit level in the state of residence, the ratio of the benefit level to family income, community-level welfare receipt, and family history of welfare receipt. Results do not support the hypothesis that higher welfare benefits provide an incentive that hastens sex or reduces contraceptive use. Analyses provide moderate support for a culture of poverty perspective among girls. Intergenerational welfare receipt has a borderline significant effect on the timing of first sex, and maternal welfare receipt predicts nonuse of contraception at first sex for girls. Strong support is found for a stressful life experiences perspective, in which both parental marital disruption and nonvoluntary sex predict earlier voluntary sex.

Analyses were supported by a grant from the Office of Population Affairs, Department of Health and Human Services, under Grant # APR 00000959.
Her research interests include teenage childbearing, family processes, public policy, and survey methodology. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan.
Donna Ruane Morrison is a Senior Research Associate, and her research interests include the effects of family structure and processes on the well-being of children. She received her Ph.D. in sociology from Johns Hopkins University.
Dana A. Glei is a Research Analyst, and her research interests include employment, gender, and teen pregnancy and childbearing. She received her M.A. from the University of Virginia.