Teen Sexuality and Teen Pregnancy 
Teen Sexuality and Teen Pregnancy
by Yale / Robert Wyman
Video Lecture 20 of 24
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Date Added: November 8, 2009

Lecture Description


Rates of teen pregnancy in the US are quite high, in contrast to European countries which have much lower rates, especially those with liberal attitudes toward sexuality. Traditionally, puberty and marriage were simultaneous. Now, the many years spent in education leaves a long time between those life stages. Sex education is not particularly strong. Contraception has allowed the rate of teen pregnancy to decrease steadily in spite of the fact that teen sex is consistently increasing. Non-marital childbearing is high in all industrialized countries.



Reading assignment:

Dash, Leon. When Children Want Children, pp. 11-15, 46-48, 51, 70-74, 103-105, 124-128, 142-145 and 172-175



Zezima, Katie. "Spike in School's Pregnancies Leads to Report that Some Resulted from Girls' Pact." The New York Times, 20 June 2008



Luker, Kristin. Dubious Conceptions: The Politics of Teenage Pregnancy, pp. 60-80 and 106-108



Thompson, Sharon. Going All the Way; Teenage Girls' Tales of Sex, Romance, and Pregnancy, pp. 3-39



Rosenbaum, Janet. "Reborn a Virgin: Adolescents Retracting of Virginity Pledges and Sexual Histories." American Journal of Public Health, no. 96 (2006), pp. 1098-1103



Cohen, Susan A. "Delayed Marriage and Abstinence-until-Marriage: On a Collision Course." The Guttmacher Report on Public Policy, Vol. 7, no. 2 (June 2004)



Trenholm, Christopher, Barbara Devaney, Ken Fortson, Lisa Quay, Justin Wheeler, and Melissa Clark. Impacts of Four Title V, Section 510 Abstinence Education Programs, Final Report. Washington D.C.: Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., 2007




Transcript



April 9, 2009



Professor Robert Wyman: As you undoubtedly have noticed, most of the course has been--I sort of have a global focus and mostly focused on foreign countries with a fair amount on Europe and very little actually on America. Now we've come to the part of the course where we're going to discuss social issues and those are very country dependent. What's a hot social issue depends on the cultural context and so we're going to use that to do American issues. With respect to reproduction, one of the main--there are a couple of main issues.



One, which is not quite as hot as it was a decade ago, but it's teen sex and teen pregnancy. Both as an ethical, moral issue and as a practical economic issue about the children of teens. How are they going to get supported and what does it do to poverty of the mother, and you have some really good readings on those. The other one--the other topic which will come next after this is abortion; we're going to spend two lectures on that. There's going to be a nice long discussion of that because that is really the hot topic.



Today is teen sexuality and teen pregnancy. Just to start with some data and keep it local, this is from The Hartford Courant, last November 19, 2008. There's a national youth risk behavior survey that monitors health risk among high school kids, 9th through 12th graders all over the United States. In Connecticut 42.4% of the kids have had sexual intercourse of high school kids and it says 31.8% are sexually active. I don't know exactly what active means so I guess they're continuing. There's a few percent that didn't like it or something, but there's quite a lot of both onetime early sexuality and than a continuing bout of it.



As part of the problem, of those that have had sex, or are sexually active, 37.3% reported that they did not use any kind of protection at the last act of intercourse and therefore they're at great risk for pregnancy. That's just real sexual intercourse, I guess as Bill Clinton defines it. When you go to oral sex you get another set of numbers, and oral sex as you may, or may not, know has become the big thing in America. I'm sure that--we don't really know the causes of it, I'm not aware of any real academic literature on that, but the fear of AIDS there's a perception, which is true, that oral sex is less likely to--not zero likely, but less likely to transmit AIDS.



And also because, maybe--I don't know how much you're aware of this, but during the Bill Clinton trials, a very conservative prosecutor Kenneth Star, was talking about oral sex all the time and everybody in America learned about it and he sort of popularized it. As is often the case, people that want to push an idea in one direction, end up having pushed it in exactly the opposite direction.



Oral sex is alive and well in New Haven. I sometimes teach teachers how to talk in their classes about the kind of population issues, the kind of issues we talk about in this class, and they give me a lot of information. One day I'm talking to these teachers and they say, 'oh, something interesting has happened in the school.' In one of the local high schools, a freshman girl, was caught in the stairwell was providing oral sex for a line of boys. They were standing there waiting, a few of them with their pants down, and this girl was doing them one after the other. This is a freshman in the local high school.



The New Haven Register had a headline, "Teens Turn To Oral Sex," 10th grade students so that's high school sophomores, 40% of the boys and girls reported that they had engaged in oral sex in the last year, and about 25% that they had three or more different oral sex partners in the previous year, so sex among teenagers is alive and well, as they say.



Here's your anecdote for the day. A teenager--so Hartford, as you know, is a very bad--there are a lot of poor people in Hartford, let's just put it that way. Planned Parenthood has set up a clinic in the northeast part of Hartford, a very poor part of Hartford, and this is from one of the counselors there. A teenager, a teenage girl, comes into the Planned Parenthood clinic there and says, 'I'm pregnant,' and the counselor says, 'oh how do you know that?' She says, 'I not only know that, I know exactly when I got pregnant.' 'Oh?' 'Well I know that if you only--if your boyfriend comes only once, you can't get pregnant." But, on such and such a day, and she named the date, "we did it twice and I allowed him to come the second time and that's when I got pregnant, I know that's when I got pregnant." Because she was of the belief that one time can't do it, but two times will. Well they took the test and indeed she -- yes?



Student: [Inaudible]



Professor Robert Wyman: Indeed she took the test and indeed she was pregnant but she had been pregnant like two months before she thought she was. She had it completely wrong.



Student: My mother worked in the National Health Service Corps in the 1970s--



Professor Robert Wyman: Shout.



Student: My mother worked in the National Health Service Corp. in the 1970s in rural Colorado and she had a 12-year-old come in who was in labor and she didn't know that she was pregnant at the time.



Professor Robert Wyman: Did not? Yeah so that's--I don't know that you heard all that; her mother worked in Colorado and a 12-year-old came in, in labor, and she didn't even know she was pregnant. That's a story, Colorado, Hartford, it's all around. In 1999, which was sort of the peak of this concern about teenage pregnancy, 450 Hartford teenagers gave birth. How many completed high school? 332 girls graduated from Hartford City schools in that same year. So, one-third more girls became mothers than graduated from high school. You can imagine this was considered a serious problem.



Now what is this--the social--the political, the social, the school response to this problem? Well they're kind of hamstrung. A nurse practitioner at a Hartford school clinic said that she's allowed to test and treat students for sexually transmitted diseases, but she can do nothing about the possibility of pregnancy. She may not prescribe birth control or even distribute condoms in the school. There was a proposal in the city council to allow the schools to distribute condoms, and it was roundly turned down. What is--why is--what is the political concern here.



The political concern is what you can see here, that people who are opposed to providing contraception for teenagers, including politicians, this is an advocacy ad, this is not an academic sort of thing. This is actually true, that people believe that even discussing sex will tend to encourage it, and certainly handing out birth control will facilitate teenagers having sex. This is the political; this is the opinion, the kind of attitude that is opposed to it and why the Hartford school system and many other school systems can't provide contraception.



Of course this gets discussed a lot and it's a topic of discussion not only for the parents but for the teenagers, and one nice quote from Maritza Lopez, who was a Hartford public school high school junior, and she was already a mother. She dismissed this idea saying, "All the girls I know are sexually active. Most started in the 6th or 7th grade, they're going to do it no matter what."



Now I experienced this same kind of attitude. I was again teaching the teachers, sort of teacher training kind of stuff and I was new at it, a little naïve. This was Connecticut teachers from all over the state. Before I started, I said, look, we're going to discuss some pretty heavy stuff here involving sex and everything, and I don't know how much of this you can talk to your kids about. They roared with laughter! What they all told me was "all of our kids"--they exaggerated, I'm sure it wasn't all, but the way they expressed it was 'all of our kids were into sex already'. I can say anything that I want, there's nothing that they're going to be shocked by.



Some schools can do a decent--a proper sex education; some schools are not allowed to do proper sex education. A problem, even in the schools where it's allowed, is often the choice of teachers. It can be the Health Ed. teacher or someone who may be a jock, that has said, okay it's your job to teach sex education. It's rarely that a teacher gets to volunteer, that they survey all the teachers and say this is a tough job, who wants to do it? No, somebody gets assigned to do that.



Then, you get the--very often, the teacher herself may not approve of sex education for the children. She may think it's not a proper topic for a school for whatever grade she's supposed to teach it in. She may--and I say she, it may be she or he, the teacher may be uncomfortable talking about sex, may not be well-educated on how to handle questions about sex or about contraception, may also, very likely now, be afraid of legal complications or disciplinary actions from the school if they handle it wrong and they say the wrong thing, and parents start objecting, which certainly happens, and it happens in Connecticut and I've been involved in some of that stuff. Parents coming in and screaming and yelling at him or threatening to sue the teacher, it--happens.



In any case, most sex education teachers, as far as one has data, which is very skinny, the teaching of this subject is just not coming from a person's guts. They're fulfilling a curriculum assignment, it's something that they are assigned to do, and if, in something of this nature, the teacher is not really--this is not coming from her soul, then its guarantee to be an unsuccessful program.



We've seen things like this before. Remember when we talked about the family planning program in Pakistan and Bangladesh. They started with the Daiyis when it was one country, when it was Pakistan, and the Daiyis were the traditional birth attendants who themselves were not using contraception, didn't believe in it, didn't know anything about it, and could make more money doing--attending births. The program was a complete failure until they changed and started hiring women who themselves were using contraception, some were high status and really approved of it, and then the program became a great success.



You have to have consistency. If you make a law, or try to have a policy, the people that are supposed to carry out the policy must want to do that. If they don't really want to do that, whatever your policy is, in any area of activity, it's not going to work. Now this doesn't mean that it's necessarily terribly difficult to be effective, the sex education. Planned Parenthood, for instance, I used them as an example because I know about them. They do a lot of sex education for the schools, and often when the school is uncomfortable doing it or doesn't have anybody that they think wants to do it, or is qualified to do it, they will call in Planned Parenthood or one of a number of other kinds of organizations.



Planned Parenthood has the flexibility to hire people; they don't have licensing and so forth requirements--who are really committed to this kind of thing. They did what they call a seminar for high school students, again in Connecticut here, I think it was also Hartford and they got a letter back from one of the students:



"Hello, my name is Kelly and I was in your seminar. I would like to thank you for making me aware of some of the consequences of sex. Because of your seminar I got the courage to ask my mother for birth control before something happened that I would regret for the rest of my life. I also got the courage to ask my boyfriend to use a condom instead of nothing. Thank you so much, you've really honestly changed my life. I guess when the information doesn't come from the teacher it actually hits home. Thank you, Kelly."



Now this is a teenager's letter and its one anecdote, so you can't make an awful lot out of it, but you have to think a little bit. She says, "making me aware of some of the consequences of sex." Well, do you think she really didn't know you could get pregnant from sex, that you can get diseases? No, she knew that, that she had misidentified what was going on. I doubt--I'd be flabbergasted if she didn't know that by the time she was in high school.



What do you think? You have a more recent experience in high school; don't all the kids know that you get pregnant from sex? Yes, and all know that you can get a disease--an STD from sex? Not so sure, all right maybe Kelly was--maybe I'm wrong and Kelly was right, I don't know. The thing is, it's all in the way it's presented. If it's presented by someone that really cares about it and wants to do it, there's just a whole different atmosphere and kids minds open up to this kind of thing.



Anyway, America is generally in a mess with respect to sex education and sex in general. It's quite different than the European countries. So, here is a typical graph that is presented frequently. This shows the number of children born to teenagers, this is again at the peak of the problem, and here's France, here's Germany, here's Japan, here's Great Britain, and, Whooops, here's the United States.



Student: Is there a graph adjusted for population sizes?



Professor Robert Wyman: Perfect, that was the next question and I'm glad one of you caught it right away. This is again--usually presented like this, it's an advocacy thing. It wants to scare you; it wants to show you how much worse the United States is than everybody else. As we just got told, the United States has a much larger population then any of these places, so this is not really a legitimate way of presenting the data.



Of course, your dutiful teacher redid it and here is when you divide out by population and you see it's not as severe as the illegitimate graph, but--the United States is still more than twice, has more than twice the percentage problem; anyways it's still serious. In fact, they didn't have to use the improper data they could have used data like this and still the problem becomes very clear.



From a lot of studies of these kinds of things, it turns out countries that have a very liberal attitude toward sexuality have the lowest teen birthrates, teen pregnancy rates. A place like the Netherlands, probably in the west, either Denmark, or Sweden, or Netherlands is probably the most liberal and in those countries it's considered a perfectly normal part of teenage experience and the teenagers are expected and encouraged to bring their girlfriend or boyfriend home and sleep in the same room. That may be starting to happen in America--how many of your parents would allow that? A few all right we're--she's married.



The U.S. rate is 54 per 1,000 teens, about one out of 20 each year, and in the Netherlands the figure is 7, so eight times lower, and it's a huge difference depending on the country attitude. In academical discussions, these things get terribly mixed up. There is a bunch of issues which usually people don't separate out. One is teen pregnancy and that's very different than teen--can be different than teen childbearing because not all those pregnancies come to birth. There's teen sex, then you have sex, you might get pregnant, and if you get pregnant you might actually have a live birth.



So there's three different steps, and when you're looking at statistics you have to separate those. Another is the whole idea of out-of-wedlock births, births born to mothers that are not married. You can combine all pregnancies, you combine those two, [in- and] out-of-wedlock teen pregnancies. When you read discussions of this, try to figure out what they're talking--which of these problems they're about. It's often not made very clear, but it's very important to keep it straight. I'll try to talk about these different things and make it clear.



When you discuss this--one issue is--what do the statistics you're looking at refer to, and I hope I've always been clear in these slides. The other, when you go across nationally, like to other countries, and it's not always clear what marriage means. In other cultures--in the West in general and the United States in particular, a marriage is a legal statement and it's an all or nothing sort of thing. You either have a marriage certificate and you are married, or you don't have a marriage certificate and you're not married. And if you have one, and you get divorced, then you--in terms of you don't have one anymore. It's an on or off kind of thing. Everyone really knows whether they are married or they are not married.



In other cultures, marriage is quite variable, it's a stage thing, and it may have various steps in the marriage. For instance, in Nigeria among the Fulani, at circumcision, a boy who's age seven to ten at this time, is then betrothed to an infant girl. Sometimes betrothed is translated as married to. When the future husband--But they don't live together. When the future husband's father learns from the girl's parents, who are living separately, that she has begun menstruation and then is believed to be capable of childbirth, the girl then moves into her husband's--her future husband's compound.



So they're still betrothed, she's now menstruating, so she moves in with the husband, and it's still the future husband and she's treated as a daughter of the husband's father's household, she's treated like a sister of the boy. The boy and girl sleep together, they have sex in the open, and the boy is usually in this culture, it's a herding culture, they sleep outside near the corral to guard the cattle against raiders and wolves and whatever kind of predator animals they have there. That's all done, of course, very openly. They still have the status of an unmarried youth and a maiden, where she is not a virgin anymore but she's a maiden.



When the girl becomes pregnant, she moves back to her father's household and she stays there for three wet seasons and they have wet and dry seasons there, so it's a geological--climatological thing and that takes two to two and a half years depending on when they've started, and then she returns to the boy and only then are they considered married. There are so many different steps and then they are officially married. Using our definition of marriage applied to the Fulani, since they always have that first child and until it's two or three, when they're not married, basically all Fulani first births are illegitimate births, by our accounting of it.



Among the Dogon people, which is Mali and Burkina Faso, a girl doesn't move into her spouse's home until the birth of the second or even the third child. Speaking of that, in Sweden, I lived in Sweden and we have a guest whose son is in Sweden, when I was there, the tradition was building up that you get married on the birth of your second child. Is that still happening or--



Student: No, they actually don't marry before the first child.



Professor Robert Wyman: Her own son, but that's because he is a foreigner.



In China they have an interesting system. In the old days, in some places, that I don't think I described, where they have child marriage, they marry a boy to an older girl and the older girl then acts as a kind of nanny and takes care of the boy until they grow up. But they're legally married, but he's five years or old or something, and she takes care of him until he becomes--she's a surrogate mother until he becomes sexually mature.



One of the explanations for the low rate of Chinese fertility within marriage is that boys rarely have sexual interest in their sisters, at least not for long, and so this kid grows up and this girl, older girl, has been taking care of him and by the time they get married there's no sexual interest hardly at all. So the rate of intercourse is very low and the birthrate is very low and we talked quite a bit about that.



Also in traditional China men can take many wives and men can take concubines. And they can take slaves, and the distinction among all these categories is not very clear, since marriage is usually not a government function but they go to the local Buddhist shrine and do a variety--or Taoist shrine and do a variety of different practices depending on the woman. One of the most common ways--so the marriage--the first--There will often be a first wife, not necessarily the first woman that's taken into the household for the sexual relations with the husband but what's called the first wife and she will be prominent. And then there will be all kinds--depending on how rich the person is, a variety of other women.



Apparently one of the frequent things is that the degree of importance of the marriage depends on how public the ceremony was. If there's a big public ceremony with lots of relatives and neighbors invited, then it's very clear, this is a very clear--this is what we would call a marriage. In other cases, a woman is just taken in the middle of the night and brought in the house and there's never anything public done whatsoever, and she lives there as a sexual partner for the husband and you can call it married or call it not married, she lives in the house probably until she dies.



This marriage again is not an all or nothing kind of thing, it will start out with different levels of status, and then during the course of the marriage the status can change. The husband may become enamored of the wife and in various ways raise her status or degrade her status and so forth.



Now in poor communities, everywhere--you read about this in Brazil and among people of the United States, a formal marriage has, sort of, almost disappeared and it's replaced by various informal unions. And these informal unions, where there's no legal status whatsoever no--the word marriage is just not used, the state of the relationship between the man and the woman is sort of negotiated daily. It can change all the time, that it's not--again not a fixed thing but a very floating kind of relationship.



Even in the United States of course marriage is not a uniform legal situation. Each--marriage has a state law, it's not a federal--you don't get married in a federal situation, you get married in a state situation, and so there's 50 different situations altogether, and we have prenuptial agreements which arrange the financial relationship between the man and his wife, or vice versa, and so that can be different.



In other places even more issues than just financial are arranged by private contract. It's not set by law, but by private contract between the marrying parties, or more likely between the marrying families. A friend of mine, whose daughter went to college in Egypt, went to The American University in Cairo. I was going to say she fell in love with an Egyptian guy, but I don't know that. They had sex, I don't know whether they fell in love or not, but she got pregnant and the girl decided to get married. Her parents were divorced and the girl's father wanted to have nothing to do with it. So, there was the mother, she had to do something about it, and she was opposed to the marriage. But the girl didn't listen, so they were going to go ahead with the marriage.



Now in Egypt, at that time, you have to have a marriage contract and that specifies all kinds of rights that the woman has. What rights does she have in her children? Without that specified in the marriage contract, they were totally the husband's. If there's any divorce or anything, the husband gets them, there's no legal case whatsoever. What are her rights to travel? Can she travel by herself? Can she go abroad? Can she travel around Egypt by herself? What are her rights to residence? What are her rights to child custody and so forth? All of this had to be specified and there was no husband to do it, so guess who played--ersatz, I played the role of the father and helped negotiate this thing, very interesting.



Each marriage means something different in many places. You can see that in the DHS surveys, The Demographic and Health Surveys that I've shown you, it never uses the word marriage, it says 'in union,' that's because 'marriage' means so many different things or means nothing at all.



Now it's often perceived that teenage pregnancy and related social problems are--from graphs like that are either uniquely American or more extreme in America, but it's not the case. For instance, in Japan, of women who are teenagers at their first birth, 82% became pregnant before marrying. Of women age 20 to 24, 58% became pregnant before marrying. And, of all women, 26% became pregnant before marrying. In other words, if a Japanese woman got pregnant before her late 20s she was probably unmarried at the time that she got pregnant. These numbers are--well are numbers [of women] that have actual--have live births. As you'll see in the next lecture, Japan has an extremely high rate of abortion, so these numbers are way--these are the women who carry the birth to term and probably, at least these are underestimates by a factor of two because this doesn't take into account abortion.



I've assigned you reading that discusses this issue from a whole variety of perspectives, and I guess I don't have to tell you what it is because you'll do the reading. A little bit of the biological background to these issues and some of this, I don't have to tell you about, because you were teenagers yourself very recently. Several things happen at puberty and there are tremendous physical changes, you've noticed this. There are tremendous physiological changes, I'm sure you've noticed that, and there are even tremendous emotional changes which of course you guys wouldn't know anything about because you've been studying too hard to pay any attention to this.



Evolution has clearly designed to have this incredible eruption of the ability to get infatuated, to fall in-love, to have sexual emotions, and it all comes on like a ton of bricks at puberty. This is not by chance, this is not by culture; this is straight old mother evolution doing these things to you. Simultaneously with this, especially in males, there's an eruption--it's not absent in females, a great eruption of revolt against parental authority. When you were a little kid you did whatever mommy says, more or less. When you're a teenager, no go, there's competitiveness, there's aggressiveness, there's violence, it onsets at puberty and all of this is to set a place in the dominance hierarchy.



Of course we are, in the West, well aware of these incredible emotional outbursts and there's tons of literature about this of which probably the most famous is Romeo and Juliet. Anybody take a Shakespeare class? How old are Romeo and Juliet supposed to be? 13, 14, something like that and what did their great overpowering love cause them to do? They killed themselves over it. Very purposely, they could not live without the other--with their partner. This emotion is extraordinarily strong, even stronger then the desire to have life.



Now adolescent sexuality is more or less disruptive depending a lot on the culture. Probably the one most important variable, is, how much teen sexuality is allowed? Does one have an outlet for these emotions? If the culture allows an outlet, in of a variety of ways, then it's probably easier for the adolescent to accommodate this. If, like our culture, in principle, we're not supposed to have an outlet for this, then the tensions build up and strange things happen.



Different societies handle adolescent sexuality very differently. You read the Om Gad story about the Egyptian woman and that is one way in which traditional societies handle sex. You remember that her sexual initiation began very early; it began before puberty, if you remember that. It was introduced with what she perceived to be a fair amount of violence. Remember on her wedding night she had no clue what was going on and the women come and investigate her before the marriage ceremony and it must be an extremely scary business. Even before that, the women in Egypt, all those--well that was only one woman you read about, they all had clitorectomies, which again you read about there.



There's a lot of violence involved in teenage sexuality in a lot of places. It's moderately common, at least in traditional times, that marriage and first intercourse precede puberty. In Iran, for instance, a few years ago Iran raised the legal age of marriage to the age of nine. I may have mentioned this in a previous lecture, and the conservatives were very upset about this, and they were opposed to this because they considered that raising of the marriage age to be much too liberal for Iranian society. The reason that they chose the age of nine was that Mohammed married his favorite wife, his second wife, Aisha, when she was nine.



Again, I warn you, that getting married doesn't necessarily mean the onset of sexual intercourse. We don't have any idea what happened there, but getting married, like the five year old boys in China getting married does not--you don't know what the means with respect to sex. Just that a contract has been decided upon and, at some stage, sex will take place between the two. With respect to this bill, parliament actually passed it--later on they did raise it to nine and then a further bill came in to raise the age from 9 to 13, but that was blocked. The Guardian Council, which is the conservative religious body, and they thought since Mohammed got married at nine that you couldn't do anything different than that.



Now in many parts of the world, until very recently, if a girl got into her late teens or certainly early 20s without being married, it was considered a disaster. Then she was--by 20, much too old and she would never get married, she would be a spinster for the rest of her life.



These cultures had--most traditional cultures had various prescriptions against premarital sex, sex before marriage, and this has several very important functions. One is to ensure the paternity, if you're married and you got pregnant, then the society can be pretty sure of, or at least can assume legally, that the father--that they know the father, and therefore the economic responsibility for the child is very clear. That's one the reasons to have a fixed legal status of marriage.



Back then marriage and puberty were essentially the same, pre-pubescent girls were all--post pubescent girls they got married at puberty and that's it, so a lot of these languages don't have words that distinguish between maiden, in the sense of a young girl and virgin in the sense of a girl who has not had sex. There's a large theological discussion in the Bible when the Virgin Mary--was she a maiden or a virgin and the language maybe doesn't distinguish between these two kinds of things.



Another prohibition against premarital sex, since puberty and marriage were often very tightly tied, that the prohibition against premarital sex was really intended, in many cases, to protect girls from pre-pubertal sex. What was--had originally that goal, to deal with pre-pubertal sex, if you retain the legal aspect of it until the women marry much later, it doesn't anymore have that kind of function whatsoever.



Teenage childbearing was very common, illegitimacy was very common, so the earliest records we have are from the 1600s and the Chesapeake Bay Colony; way back then guess what fraction of women were pregnant when they got married, of married women what fraction were pregnant? Make a guess for the 1600s, Chesapeake Bay Colony.



Student: Eighty-five percent.



Professor Robert Wyman: What?



Student: Eighty-five percent.



Professor Robert Wyman: Thirty percent, which is very similar to the numbers that we've had until recently, it just seems to be almost a constant. They have fairly decent records through American history and a lot of histories and the rates of premarital pregnancy seem to go up and down. There seem to be large increases in the late 1600s and around 1725 to the earliest booms of premarital pregnancy and I don't have any idea what the cause of those are, but you can go to our professor of colonial history and try to find out.



How were these--why were these not a social problem these premarital pregnancies? Because what happened then? They got married and those kinds of marriages are called? Shotgun weddings. Have you all not heard that word 'shotgun weddings'? You get pregnant first then--in principle the image comes from the girl's father carrying a shotgun saying, 'You're going to marry my daughter aren't you?' Those are standardly called 'shotgun weddings'.



I think I've mentioned to you that if the mother didn't get married, either because of her unwillingness or the guy's unwillingness, then she had a real problem, because in the Anglo-American tradition it was not the family that had responsibility, the village had responsibility for the unwed child to--both the mother and the child it had to support, and for all these villages living on the edge of subsistence this was not--this was a very big burden. I think I mentioned this, the stories of pregnant women being chased from village to village so that they would not have the child in the village because then, ever thereafter, that child is the responsibility of the village.



Another thing to keep in mind, that we talk now a lot about, is single parent families and what a bad problem this is. It turns out that the prevalence of single parent families has always been very high. In the 1700s, for instance, this is a quote from a history book, "One the main characteristics of European urban households in the eighteenth century was the large proportion that were headed by women." In Rheims under the Ancien Regime, in France before the French Revolution, one out of four homes was headed by a woman and 15% to 25% in all the towns for which they have data on this.



In the U.S., the prevalence--the big divorce boom came after the 1950s in America, but it turns out that the prevalence of single parent households at the end of the twentieth century was almost identical to that at the beginning of the twentieth century. What was the difference? At the end of the century, single parent households were caused by either lack of marriage or divorce, but at the beginning of the century death, death of one of the parents. What has happened is that marriages on average didn't last very long in traditional times, because one of the parents would die; the death rates were so high.



They coped with single parent families because of death, and now people psychologically, apparently, are not attuned to staying together for long times, or even getting married in the first place. So, now that situation has changed so that now it's sort of voluntary single-parent families, but the numbers surprisingly have changed very little. It's another one of these things that I've talked about in history where things change from being outside of human control, like whether you're married or not, whether you're going to be a single parent--outside of human control are brought into human control, it's in some sense under human choice.



What has changed in the modern West with respect to all of this, and is now spreading everywhere is that children are not supposed to get married as teenagers. If you had gotten married in high school, probably every single one of your parents would have really been very upset by that. Of course in the old--In the essence, it has to do with education. In the old days you were a peasant, you were a farmer, and things were done the way they had always been done and little kids, starting at age five, six, seven started going into the fields with his mother or his father, or both of them, and watching how the farming is done.



By the time he was a teenager he had probably learned how you do things because it's done traditionally. There was no science to it, there was no quantification or arithmetic involved in this. This is the way you did it. When the moon is at such and such a phase, they have to do this, you start planting and so forth, and you learn all that. There was no need for the--no economic need to have a lot of education. Now of course that's turned around completely. Even farmers definitely do not do things in a traditional manner; it requires a lot of education to be a very efficient farmer, and so we need a lot of schooling for whatever we do, so we're not supposed to get married until our schooling is finished.



Your parents would not only have been mortified if you got married in high school, but they probably would be mortified if you got married before you graduated college. How many of you think your parents would be very happy if you got married now? How many of you are married? One, two sorry, two of the TAs are married and they're--TAs are moderately married. Now mostly I teach biology majors and we all know when the biology majors grow up. Is it when the get their MD or is it when they finish their residency? That's the big issue and they generally don't get married before that.



Now we have to do a little quantification of all of this, so here is the crux of the problem, and this is in 1890. Menarche of course is the onset of the menses, and presumably more or less the time of beginning of fertility, and that was at about 15 years of age. Now with presumably increased nutrition, although the reasons are still somewhat questionable, the age of menarche is now 12.5, so this period has been extended forward. The age at marriage was 22 in 1890, the average age of marriage for women, this is for women.



The period was still fairly--between the onset presumably of sexual desire and the "legitimate realization" of it, at marriage, was about 7.5 years and then very rapidly a first birth would occur. Now what happens is you go to 1988, menarche becomes earlier and marriage becomes a lot later, and now both these things have expanded even more. Now the period of time between the onset of adolescence and sexual desires and marriage, becomes longer and as time goes on this gets longer and longer and it's the same story for men. We don't have good early data on spermarche, but marriage is even later than for women, so for men [the gap] is 12.5 years.



That's a very long period of time in the lifecycle of a man especially, not much less for a woman, and especially during the fertile years say 15 to 40, like 25 fertile years this is--or 35 this is half or somewhat less than half of your total fertile period is premarital. Quantitatively, that's probably where the social issue comes up. Way before 1890s, in traditional societies, menarche and marriage come at the same time, there's no real interval there so there's not a social problem of what to--the social problem is what to do with sexuality in this interval here.



In traditional times, when our religions grew up and most of our cultural presuppositions grew up, there was no period, or extremely little period, between the onset of adolescence and marriage. As time goes on and the need for education increases, that period between onset of adolescence and marriage grows longer and longer. There becomes this very long social period in which, by some social conventions, you're not supposed to have sex, the child is still a child in a sense, not supposed to have sex but the biology is telling them that yes they want it very much.



Societies have had, Western societies especially, but the rest of the world is not any different, have had a long--have had a lot of trouble and are still in the middle of having difficulty with deciding what to do with this period. What are the morals, what are the ethics, what's the religious attitudes that should take place about sexuality in these periods. This whole lecture basically, this whole problem of teenage sexuality is due to that problem there.



Now if you look at the time what has happened, what has happened to sexuality in this period? Well what do you think has happened to the frequency of sex among teenagers, unmarried teenagers? Up, well yes that is correct, here's data, this data is not--you want to bring the data more up to date but we just don't have it. Here's women starting in 1956, after World War II, there's a very conservative period in America where the war was very disruptive, they had the big depression, then the war. People wanted to go back to a traditional way of living: a little white house in the suburbs, a man and a wife, and a white picket fence around it, and the fraction of teenage women--this is teenagers, having sex was like still a quarter--more than a quarter so it was not zero by any means.



Then as time goes on it goes higher and higher and now it's sort of doubled the rate. Not now, this is 1980, late 1980s, so we've progressed another 20, 30 years since then and it's just continued to creep up. This is for females and this is for males showing the same thing. So, yes, indeed, sex has increased. No question about that.



What do you think has happened to the teen birthrate? This is really what people don't realize. During that same period, when the frequency of teen sex was rising quite noticeably, the teen birthrate went from 80 or even 90 in the middle 1950s during--where that other graph started in the middle of this conservative period there was a very high teen birthrate, and then it's gone down and it's continued on down, it's now down to about this level, about 40 currently. These graphs were all done during this period of peak--its being at peak as a social issue.



This bump here, where it raised temporarily, was significant. You're going from 50 to 60 or something, which is a 20% increase in teen births. No one really knows what that is, but sort of the presumption it was the Reagan and Bush 'just say no' period, where social programs to combat pregnancy, largely sex education, were frowned upon, were put down and the result was an increase. That's very conjectural, we really don't have a way of finding out what caused that but since that's over--it's come back down and continued to fall; every year basically the rate of teen pregnancy gets less than the previous year.



It's still a big problem. Of course I showed you in the first graph, there's still about a half a million teenage pregnancies each year. That is, in the American context, about half what it used to be, but in the world--it's middling, it's more than in Europe and less than in a lot of other countries. If you break this down, this decline in teen childbearing you can average it out, it's 1% a year, kind of continually, since the 1950s. In the last 50 years teenage pregnancy has dropped on average 1% a year very, very consistently.



You can break it down. It's dropped in all 50 states. If you break it down geographically, it's dropped in all ethnic groups, you pick your ethnic groups, the teen pregnancy rate has fallen. Especially during the peak of the crisis, there was a special worry about poor teenagers, and at that time that meant mostly black teenagers. The rate of drop of teen pregnancy among black teenagers has been about twice the rate of drop among whites, so they've come much closer together.



It's not only childbearing, but actual pregnancy rates. This is childbearing rates, if I put up pregnancy rates it would look pretty much the same. Now we've got a problem here. We've said that the rate of teen pregnancy something like doubled and the rate of teen--sorry the rate of teen sexuality somewhat doubled, yet the rate of teen childbirth went in half, so there's a factor of four that we have to explain. What we think should have doubled in fact went down by a factor of two. What is the factor here? What do teens start to do? What?



Student: Married more.



Professor Robert Wyman: They what?



Student: Married.



Professor Robert Wyman: No, no marriage--I'll show you marriage in a minute. In fact I will show you marriage, good that's a good point. This is marriage rates for different ages and here is women in the prime age of marriage. This is the marriage rate--in 1960 marriage disappears, marriage falls off the face of the cliff.



Student: Birthrate.



Professor Robert Wyman: I'm sorry birthrate, yes sorry my mistake. The birthrate drops tremendously and what happens in the early 1960s to cause that?



Student: The pill.



Professor Robert Wyman: The pill, the birth control pill, so this is a pure technological effect. This kind of drop, we've seen this for China, and when Mexico legalized contraception you get these drops. This is 15 years it goes from 250 down to less than 125, it drops by a factor of two in 15 years, an enormous drop. This is all a technological drop due to the availability of modern contraception, and the pill in particular. We've seen that kind of--That means that, at this point in time, when the birthrate was one out of every four women every year of fertile ages, that's a very--that's a pretty high rate.



That means that--I mean the other social indicators don't change so much, like the economy or the amount of female education or anything like that, not so rapidly. So this means that at that time there must have been a fairly large desire to stop childbearing, but there wasn't the technology available and so as soon as the technology is available the birthrate drops. Now for teenagers, here's age 15 to 19, you also get a drop also at the same time, but it's much more gradual. Why is that? That's--



Student: I'm sorry, if I could ask you a question, have you factored in the legalization of abortion which took place in--



Professor Robert Wyman: The legalization of abortion is probably this blip down here. No, that's later, that was 1973 so that's down here, the fertility drop is--contraception gets legalized in 1965 and abortion in 1973, so it's too late for that but the availability of contraception and the legalization of it. So, in 1960 contraception between married people is not legal. It was in 1965, so partway through this drop, that it became legal but it was used very heavily. As in China, with the one child policy was just rampant ignoring of the law.



It was the Supreme Court case that was fought--there was a Connecticut case, the Planned Parenthood of Connecticut did the contraception law, did the case that made contraception legal for married people and it was later that unmarried people got the right to have contraception. The birthrate drops for married women, but for teenagers it drops much more slowly, and that's the tradeoff between that they're having more sex so you expect it to go up, but they're using contraception, so it's going down.



Whereas these women, married women at that age were having sex before this period, so what you see is all the contraceptive effect and there's no increase in sexual frequency to counterbalance that. This is you would expect--well this would be--this is the full contraceptive effect, this is the contraceptive effect minus the increased sexuality effect. We know that something like three-quarters of sexually active teenagers, and this is for a long time, used contraception and they're amazingly good--they're not dumb about it at all. They, in general, use contraception at least as effectively as adults and in many--in several of the studies, they used contraception more effectively than adults.



If contraception hadn't come in at that time, you would have seen a tremendous rise in teen pregnancy, in teen births, whereas, in fact, you saw a gentle, a 1% a year, a gentle drop in teen births. Cross-national studies show quite convincingly that the drop--that the moderation of this drop that why teen pregnancy didn't rise when teen sex rose was due to contraception. In Canada, U.S., Sweden, France, Great Britain, the age of sexual debut doesn't change very much when you go across these countries. About 40% of the 15 to 17 year olds have already have intercourse and this rises to 70% to 80% among 18 to 19 year olds.



In fact, the U.S. had a significantly lower percentage of girls who had intercourse in the past three months than--at the year this was taken, say 59% in the U.S. and 79% in Sweden. So we had less sexuality than the other countries. Even though we had a lower amount of sexual activity, the teen pregnancy rate, the teen birthrate, the teen sexually transmitted disease rates were much higher, and again, if you compare the use of contraception in Europe it's much better than here and that explains all these problems with the sexuality.



Non-use of contraception in the United States was five times as great as that of Great Britain and three times as great as that in Sweden. The effect is not concentrated in lower economic groups, that's a somewhat interesting fact, almost everything else breaks out by economic groups, and contraception use among teenagers doesn't vary that much among different economic groups.



Now--so what's the problem here? We start out that there was or--and still there appears to be a huge problem with teen pregnancy and--but we see that in actual fact the data contradicts that. Teen pregnancy has been declining rather steadily, 1% a year for the last 50 years and is now half of what it used to be. There's a whole discussion, we can discuss teenage abortion rates, but what has happened is the disappearance of shotgun weddings. This data is pre-maritally pregnant women, this is a somewhat wider age range, not teenage but 15 to 29, and what fraction got married before the birth of their first child?



They're pregnant before this graph happens, sometime later they may, or may not, get married, what fraction of them get married before the birth of their child? They're pregnant, the child's born, and do they get married in between? Traditional shotgun wedding and here--there it is, it's getting bad. You can see it was fairly stable for many years and then boom it just falls off, that's white women, here's total women you can see, Hispanic, and black women. What disappears, it's not an issue with sexual activity it's an issue with marriage. That the problem is that marriage drops much faster than the teenagers or anybody else can cope with.



What happens, and here is the source of the problem, that even though the teen birthrate during this period is declining, the non-martial teen birthrate is rising and that's one of the things that people always don't distinguish between. It was this, the non-marital teen birthrate, that was making real social issue. It was not the total birthrate, but the unmarried birthrate. This was enough of a social problem, but without the teen use of contraception, the problem--remember we thought we should have seen a doubling of teen pregnancy and we saw a halving, a cutting in half, so there is a factor of four difference, this would have risen four times as fast without teenage use of contraception.



Again that's the--we started with it--that's one of the big social issues: Should teens be given contraception? And I think the data here shows that, I don't make any kind of moral statement or ethical statement, but that if they don't have it than non-martial teen birthrate is going to be fantastic. Question, I thought somebody raised their hand? No.



Okay now you have the reading--there's all kinds of programs that are supposed to do something about teen pregnancy and you'll read about this. One of these is virginity pledges, the abstinence only programs, various conservative measures. There's now good studies of all of these and none of them work and the information on that is in your reading.



Here is the story on--with this drop in marriage, and this is all women, it's not just teenagers. Look at the rise in unmarried births. It's about a third of all births are to unmarried women of all ages and that's continued on in a slow rise since then.



This is kind of a huge sea change in American childbearing practices. It's going from almost always within marriage to a very large fraction outside of marriage. Here--so this is the birthrate--so mostly among older women, it's rising, over 40 its low but rising. 35 to 39 it's rising. 30 to 34 slightly rising. 25 to 29 a little bit rising. And the only group that's having a lower birthrate are the 15 to 19 year olds. You can see that their line is definitely sloping down, so this marriage problem--this is the change in birthrates and the only one that's having a smaller birthrate are the teenagers.



This is now the unmarried birthrate and here you see, again 35 to 39 year old women very much increased, again the 30 to 34--the different ages, all the ages of women have an increasing rate, an unmarried birthrate, except the teenagers. Here's the 15 to 17 year olds, they are falling down, and here this dark blue line is 18 to 19 year olds, so whether it's 15 to 19 that's the only group in America in which unwed childbearing is going down.



Student: Is this a percentage or is this just a proportion, or a total number?



Professor Robert Wyman: Rate per thousand. I don't know if you can see this, its rate per thousand, ten per 1000, 20 per 1000, 40 per 1000.



Student: Do you know if the programs from 15 to 18 year olds is successful at all or is it--



Professor Robert Wyman: No, the data has been--most of the programs work on younger kids and--



Student: Is that why it's not going up as much as the others?



Professor Robert Wyman: That is in debate. No, no the abstinence programs no. There's two sets of programs competing, one are abstinence type programs, virginity pledges and the other is sex education programs and you have to have a very good study to figure out what's going on for any particular group of students. I put in your reading packet some of the best studies of this.



Here's another interesting sort of factor, that if you break teenage birthrates out by state in America, the red states have the ten highest rates and they are the south, the south belt here. The most conservative and most--and the ones with the lowest it's New England, New Jersey, upper Midwest, the most conservative and the most religious parts of America are the ones that have the highest teen birthrate. Again, you have to be careful about over-interpreting this data because what you might--they get married young there also, so a fair amount of this is marital teen birthrate, and again the data isn't readily available. At least I haven't been able to find it--what you're worried about is the un--or you think you're worried about is the unmarried teen birthrate.



Not a lot of people--some are worried about teen birthrate, period, because it means people are not getting it--the teenagers are not getting education and so forth. Like most other things that the social practices in the more conservative regions of the country lead to a very--a lower age of when people have births and not surprising at all.



Now I want to expand this internationally a little bit, so we've talked about America. Here is the country and this is teenagers--who have ever had sex, two different columns, and one column is male and one column is female, and I cut off by mistake which sex it was. Is it obvious which sex is which here? The left column you'll notice is consistently larger than the right column, so it should be pretty easy to figure out which is male and which is female.



Student: Male is left.



Professor Robert Wyman: Male is on the left, how many people agree with that? How many people think it's going to be the opposite? Why do you think it's going to be the opposite?



Student: Because when they're consistently get married and have--



Professor Robert Wyman: What?



Student: Women are going to consistently get married and have sex, whereas men in a polygamous society might have to wait longer.



Professor Robert Wyman: Right, exactly right. Here it is, the first column is indeed women, so you see now the point is very different considerations come in. This is all an effect of age at marriage, and so here is the complete graph as it was published, and notice the fraction of teenage men that are in union, almost none. Remember we talked about that, that the old men keep the young guys from getting married, and these are about 25% across the countries are in union with men who are older, therefore they've had more sex than the young males who have not had the opportunity to have sex. So this is part of what I've described before about the power structure and the money structure, that the old men keep the young men in a kind of a state of frustration and the females have sex earlier.



Now you can look at different countries and a lot of people again, this discussion of sexuality is very often tied in with ideas of religious morals and you can look at Ireland, you can look at religion, you can look around the world at countries that have different religions and one of the most Catholic countries is Ireland and more than half of all babies are born to mothers under 25 so they have a low age of birth, and about half of those are born outside of marriage. If half your babies are born before you're 25 and half of those are illegitimate that means that all the babies, just from the young women having babies, that's 25% of your total babies are illegitimate.



When you add in the illegitimacy of children born to women over 25 then it--the Irish comes to equal or exceed the U.S. rate of about one-third. If you compare the Irish illegitimacy rate to white American women, which is in some sense the proper comparison group, the Irish rate's way higher, about 50% higher than the American rate.



Now you go to the other side, New Zealand is an old fashion Protestant country. It has the--a very retro feeling when you visit it. She was--you've been there yes--they--38% of all births in New Zealand are out of wedlock. In England it's nearly 40% of births and they have the same problem, a third of marriages end in divorce and ever-increasing numbers of people see marriage as just an irrelevant thing and don't bother. In Japan, I think I gave you these things, 26% of first births are to women who conceived before marriage. In Japan, and I guess I mentioned this before; they have such a high rate of abortion that you can't tell very much from the actual childbirth rates.



We're coming to the end, we are at the end, and there's lots more to say. Let me tell you one more thing. The whole pattern of childbearing is changing drastically, especially in poorer communities. It's very difficult for poor people to bring up children because they just have no money. What's happening is who actually brings up, say, largely black children in America? Is it the mothers? It's the grandmother, a very common pattern. I don't know if--it's that the grandmothers are bringing up the children and we get up--the white dominant group gets upset by this. But actually it's a split between the biological act of parenting and the psychological and economic act of parenting.



The kids get married--get pregnant quite young, but they're probably biologically very capable of pregnancy at the ages at which they get pregnant. In some sense, from a biological point of view, getting pregnant in your late teenage maybe a biological optimum, but they are not psychologically prepared to be a parent and they're not economically prepared to be a parent.



Who is most stable psychologically is probably the mother's mother, the grandmother, who will be 35 or 40 in a time when you're sort of more or less emotionally stable, you haven't gotten into old age yet, and whatever degree of economic stability you're going to have, which is never going to be very great, is strongest at that age. In a sense, it's a very rational kind of split that you do in your lifecycle. You do your biological reproduction at the age when you're most capable of that, and, at a later stage, when you're most psychically and economically capable, you do your psychological and economic parenting.



There's also this and because of that, there's been big debates in America about welfare. Does welfare encourage illegitimate births and they go on the public dole. This is especially discussed, either openly or covertly, always referring

Course Index

Course Description


This survey course introduces students to the important and basic material on human fertility, population growth, the demographic transition and population policy. Topics include: the human and environmental dimensions of population pressure, demographic history, economic and cultural causes of demographic change, environmental carrying capacity and sustainability. Political, religious and ethical issues surrounding fertility are also addressed. The lectures and readings attempt to balance theoretical and demographic scale analyzes with studies of individual humans and communities. The perspective is global with both developed and developing countries included.



Course Structure:

This Yale College course, taught on campus twice per week for 75 minutes, was recorded for Open Yale Courses in Spring 2009.

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