What teen mothers know

Abstract

In the United States, low-income or minority populations tend toward earlier births than the more advantaged. In disadvantaged populations, one factor that may exert pressure toward early births is “weathering,” or pervasive health uncertainty. Are subjective perceptions of health related to fertility timing? Drawing on a small sample of intensive interviews with teenage mothers-to-be, I suggest that low-income African American teenagers may expect uncertain health and short lifespans. Where family economies and caretaking systems are based on kin networks, such perceptions may influence the decision to become a young mother. Heuristic typologies of ways socially situated knowledge may contribute to the reproduction of fertility timing practices contrast the experiences of poor African American interviewees, working class white interviewees, and middle-class teens who typically postpone childbearing.

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Correspondence to Arline T. Geronimus.

Additional information

This work was supported by the W.T. Grant Foundation and completed while the author was a Visiting Scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation.

Arline T. Geronimus, Sc.D., is an Associate Professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education, School of Public Health, and a Faculty Research Associate of the Population Studies Center, University of Michigan. Her research focuses on the linkages between social and health inequality and their implications for family/social organization, reproductive strategies, and social welfare policy.

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Geronimus, A.T. What teen mothers know. Human Nature 7, 323–352 (1996). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02732898

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Key words

  • African Americans
  • Culture
  • First birth timing
  • Mortality
  • Reproduction
  • Risk taking
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Teenage pregnancy