The Urban Institute, Which Defended Adult Men Impregnating Teens, Now Hosts One-Sided Conference on “Social Costs” of “Teen Motherhood”

The Urban Institute, which defended adult men impregnating teens, now hosts one-sided conference on the “social costs” of “teen motherhood”

October 16, 2008

In 1997, as both political parties, a host of tame institutions, and the news media were indulging an orgy of vitriol blaming teenage mothers for every social ill commentators could think of, the supposedly progressive Urban Institute became worried that teen mothers were not being beaten up on enough. In one of the most miserably illogical, slanted papers published on the subject, UI researchers announced a stunningly sexist conclusion: Teenage girls should be condemned for deciding to “prematurely engage in childbearing and other adult behaviors,” but the adult men who impregnate them are acting “squarely within societal norms.”

Yes, this report, issued in 1997 by a supposedly liberal lobby–not 1897 by Polygamists United–actually affirmed that we should be troubled by the attitude of the 15 year-old mother while exempting the 20-year-old man who fathered her baby. Not only that, the UI study is a junkpile of mathematical errors and unethical biasings undertaken to bury the politically uncomfortable fact that 70% of the fathers in what we call “teenage” childbearing are men age 20 and older, which I analyze extensively in Framing Youth (pp. 192ff). UI, like other lobbies on youth issues, is uncomfortable when public and policy anger is diverted from their focus on powerless teens, continues to post this sexist, fraudulent paper on its website.

Now, the Urban Institute’s hostility toward teenage mothers is again rearing its ugly head, in a teleconference titled “The Real Costs of Teen Motherhood.” No dissent is allowed. All of the speakers are on record as claiming teen mothers are socially costly; none of the authorities who dispute this claim–or the appropriateness of branding babies as “social costs,” which could just as easily be applied to children of black, Hispanic, Native, or poorer women in general–are included on the panel.

Actually, even if we look only at the age of the mother, the costliest, fastest-growing motherhood “crisis” is not teenage, but older-aged. In 2006, the National Center for Health Statistics reports mothers age 35 and older had 55,000 low birthweight (under 2,500 grams) babies, more than 10,000 of which were critically low birthweight (under 1,500 grams). Low birthweight is associated with a host of complications that cost billions of dollars in insurance and public outlays every year for infant care alone (half of total infant hospitalization costs, and more than for childhood unintentional injuries, according to analyses in the Future of Children and in Pediatrics, among others) and substantial additional costs later. The numbers of low birthweight babies born to mothers age 35 and older have exploded by 460% in the last 25 years. In contrast, teenaged mothers were considerably less likely to have low birthweight babies (42,000 in 2006) than either over-35 mothers (55,000) or teen mothers 25 years ago (58,000).

Older mothers are twice as likely to suffer diabetes, hypertension, and other predictors of pregnancy and birth complications. Down syndrome is six times more prevalent in babies born to older mothers than younger ones.Viewed in the same cruel economic light UI and like-minded lobbies apply to teenaged mothers, older-aged motherhood is a critical problem that threatens to flood already strapped health care, education, and social service agencies with disabled children. In short, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin having a baby at 43 is much riskier than daughter Bristol having a baby at 18.

So, where are major lobbies and health institutes in raising alarms about the “social costs” of over-35 motherhood that has been obvious for more than a decade? Nowhere to be found. Why not? Here’s a big clue: 61% of teenage mothers are black, Hispanic, Native, or other nonwhite; 77% of over-35 mothers are white non Hispanics. Even though over-35 mothers are more likely to suffer costly pregnancy, birth, and infant health complications, they are also economically better off than teen mothers and are part of a larger constituency whose power makes them, like adult men, exempt from attack by UI and others.

Or, we could drop the 19th century eugenicist notion that certain babies should be “prevented” because they are “socially costly.” Unless, of course, UI wants to argue that the country would have been better off if Barack Obama, son of a teenaged mother, should have been prevented.