The children of teen mothers in the U.S., on the average, have worse outcomes in a number of ways. They score lower in school achievement tests, have a greater likelihood of repeating a grade, are rated more unfavorably by teachers while in high school, have worse physical health, are more likely to be indicated victims of abuse and neglect, have higher durations of foster care placement, and are almost three times more likely to be incarcerated during adolescence or the early 20 s than the children of mothers who delayed childbearing; the daughters of teen mothers are more likely to become teen mothers themselves[1
In the United States, what to teach adolescents about sexuality and the prevention of teen pregnancy has been controversial. A number of sex education programs in the U.S. have been mandated to be "abstinence-only" programs, excluding the teaching of contraceptive techniques. As stated in a National Public Radio poll report, "the historical impetus for abstinence education has come from evangelical or born-again Christians.... Eighty-one percent of evangelical or born-again Christians believe it is morally wrong for unmarried adults to engage in sexual intercourse, compared with 33 percent of other Americans....More than twice as many evangelicals as non-evangelicals (49 percent to 21 percent) believe the government should fund abstinence-only programs instead of using the money for more comprehensive sex education [2
Other polls have presented varying results on similar questions: A 2008 poll in Minnesota [3
] reported that a significantly smaller fraction of those who described themselves as "very conservative" politically and those who were "born again" Christian supported comprehensive sex education than the corresponding fractions of more liberal and non-born-again; however, in this sample, 83.2% of the born-again Christians supported comprehensive sex education; only 51% of the politically "very conservative" supported it.
The connection between religion and attitudes toward contraception prompts investigation of the relationship between religiosity and teen pregnancy.
Some studies have suggested that greater religiosity is associated with either greater abstinence or lower teen birth rate. Hardy and Raffaelli, who analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, reported that higher time one religiosity predicted a lower likelihood of first sexual intercourse between time one and time two [4
]. Loury concluded that communities with larger communities of Catholics and Conservative Protestants have lower rates of teen childbearing, all other things equal [5
]. This conclusion was drawn from an analysis of women from age 14-20 in 1979, taken from the National Longitudinal Study of Youth. McCree and colleagues found that African-American females with higher religiosity scores were more likely to have initiated sex at a later age, to have used a condom in the last six months, and to possess more positive attitudes toward condom use [6
]. Rostosky et al. found that adolescent religiosity predicted later coital debut [7
]. However, there was a significant interaction between race and religiosity: African-American adolescent males who were either more religious or had signed a virginity pledge were more likely to debut than African-American males who were less religious and/or who had not signed a pledge. Miller and Gur found, upon analyzing the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health in the U.S., that frequent attendance of religious events in girls 12 to 21 years old was positively associated with a "responsible and planned use of birth control" [8
]. Personal conservatism, however, was associated with unprotected sex. Manlove and colleagues, upon analysis of the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, found that in the sample as a whole, greater family religiosity was associated with "using contraceptives consistently"; however, among sexually active males, family religiosity was "directly and negatively associated with contraceptive consistency" [9
Other studies have suggested that religiosity is associated with behaviors that could lead to a higher teen birth rate. Studer and Thornton found that among 18 year-olds, religious teenagers were less likely to use medical methods of contraception when sexually active [10
]. Dodge and colleagues compared male college students in the United States and the Netherlands [11
]. American men reported higher rates of inadequate contraception and unwanted pregnancy than their Dutch counterparts; religiosity and sex education were thought to explain these differences.
Rosenbaum compared adolescents who reported taking a virginity pledge with a matched sample of nonpledgers [12
]. Among the matching variables was pre-pledge religiosity and attitudes toward sex and birth control. Pledgers did not differ from nonpledgers in lifetime sexual partners and age of first sex, but pledgers were less likely to have used birth control and condoms in the past year and at last sex. This research raises the possibility that moralistic attitudes toward sexuality can actually increase the likelihood of pregnancy, by discouraging contraception without successfully discouraging sexual intercourse.
Such a hypothesis is bolstered by the research of Santelli and colleagues, who calculated that 86% of the decline in adolescent pregnancies that occurred between 1995 and 2002 was attributable to improved contraceptive use [13
]. Santelli and colleagues cite the example of the Netherlands, which in the 1970's went through a period of soul searching and consensus-building about the need for contraception and prevention of sexually transmitted infections in adolescents, and today has one of the lowest teen birth rates in the world[14
]. If contraception is more effective than attempted abstinence in reducing birth rates, then attempts to discourage both contraception and sexual intercourse among teenagers could raise teen birth rates.
A complicating variable related to teen births and religiosity is the rate of abortions among teens. Adamczyk and Felson, after analyzing longitudinal survey data from the U.S., reported that more highly religious women are less likely to have either an abortion or an out of wedlock pregnancy [15
]. Tomal, upon analyzing data from 1024 counties in 18 U.S. states, found that religious membership level was negatively related to teen abortion rates [16
Cahn and Carbone summarized differences in attitudes about family and sexuality between the more religious and conservative U.S. "red families," versus the less religious and more liberal "blue families" [17
]. These authors observed: "Within red families, abstinence outside of marriage is a moral imperative, the shotgun marriage is the preferred solution to an improvident pregnancy, and socialization into traditional gender roles is critical to marital stability." The blue model, however, "involves less control of sexuality, celebrates more egalitarian gender roles, and promotes financial independence and emotional maturity as the sine qua non of responsible parenthood In this new model, abstinence is unrealistic, contraception is not only permissible, but morally compelled, and abortion is the necessary (and responsible) fallback." (p. 3). Cahn and Carbone mention that teen birth rates appear higher among "red" families.
The present study approaches the relationship between teen birth rate and religiosity by looking at data aggregated across states in the United States.