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Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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42 Responses

  1. feministplus
    feministplus May 17, 2012 at 10:21 am |

    I’m guessing that some of this isn’t *just* about poverty influencing choices, but also about it restricting what options are available: less able to access contraception and abortion, more dependent on older/richer boyfriends (and therefore less free to say ‘no’ or ‘use a condom’), more targeted by rapists and abusers (because they know people are less likely to believe a girl from that kind of background)…

  2. Lauren
    Lauren May 17, 2012 at 10:43 am |

    We focus on a lot of the negatives of teen pregnancy, but don’t seem all that willing to entertain the positives. The plus sides of parenthood overall pretty well transcend age and economics — one of the biggest positives is the addition of a new family member to everyone’s lives. For middle and upper class families, teen pregnancy is a horrifying for a lot of reasons social and economic, but what we find in lower class families is that the financial and educational disincentives don’t matter (i.e. if you’re already poor and don’t have access to higher education, what’s the difference?), also that the poor girls who don’t start a family early and poor girls who do start a family early really don’t have very different long-term outcomes when it comes to earning power and job opportunities. So, if you’re in a situation where you’re poor and faced with the opportunity to grow your family, it seems like a pretty obvious choice. Have the baby, experience greater happiness.

  3. Alara Rogers
    Alara Rogers May 17, 2012 at 10:45 am |

    This has seemed obvious to me for many years.

    When you are poor, have low socio-economic status, and have no realistic opportunity for advancement, pretty much the *only* way to have “power” and status within your community is to be a mom. We don’t think of motherhood as conferring any great status because in middle-class educated circles, it doesn’t (and may actively work against your status), but among people who cannot achieve the things society says are important — educations, good jobs, political power of any kind — motherhood confers power.

    Moms are adults. They are taken more seriously by other moms. As nearly as I can see, in many underclass societies, the fact that the divide between men and women is so unbreachable and the sense of what power men are willing to grant to women is so low that women don’t actually pay any attention to male-dominated power structure because they cannot possibly get ahead in it anyway; they run an almost separate, parallel power structure where every woman in it is expected to have to listen to “her” man, at least to some degree, and to have to cater to him, but who actually has status and influence among the women translates to “mothers”, particularly mothers who do a lot of work in organizing community mothers or assisting community mothers. If a woman wants the highest power and authority that life will grant her in such circumstances, she has to have kids.

    And it’s to her advantage to have them young. When her own mother is young and healthy and can help her out a lot. When her physical health is probably at its peak. When she has the most energy for taking on the enormous physical burden of raising a small child, or more than one. These things are not going to get any easier for her as she gets older, because she’s not going to have more money, she’s not going to have a better job with better benefits or more leisure… so she’s best off having them now.

    I know of no way to study this because of the confounds, but I strongly suspect that of women in these financial and social circumstances, the outcome is *better* with teen pregnancy than later pregnancy or no children. (I say there’s no way to study this because any cohort of women who are demographically identical to the teen moms but are not moms may be women who are being pushed by family or mentors not to be pregnant because they’re going to “make something of themselves”, and with that kind of focused attention and encouragement it’s quite possible they will end up achieving greater socio-economic status. You’d have to somehow find people whose circumstances are just as desperate and hopeless as everyone around them, and who are also heterosexual, sexually attractive to men, and have equivalent health, and yet for some reason haven’t had kids… and good luck finding such a cohort with our available social science data.)

  4. Lauren
    Lauren May 17, 2012 at 10:48 am |

    Which is all to say, like Jill says, the real story here is the lack of class mobility. What is particularly telling to me is the finding that the greater the rates of inequality, the more likely they are to give birth.

    Those who do so by becoming single teen moms end up fairing poorly in life, but those bad outcomes seem to be a result of bleak underlying circumstances rather than poor choices.

    Unless the “those” in this sentence is “poor teen moms” and not just “teen moms”, this sentence is untrue. What the research consistently shows is that what economic class the teen mom ends up in is almost completely dependent on what economic class the teen mom starts in. Pregnant middle-class teens become middle-class adult parents. Poor pregnant teens become poor adult parents. Et cetera.

  5. Amanda Marcotte
    Amanda Marcotte May 17, 2012 at 11:27 am |

    I think the status thing is really important. There’s basically no one with lower status in our culture than a teenage girl living in poverty. Having a baby is a way to basically redefine yourself away from the “girl” part; you’re now a woman, and that means something. I’ve definitely seen it in my family, when I had a tiff with my aunt because she wanted to give my spot at the “grown-up table” to a younger cousin because that cousin had a baby. I was older in years, but my cousin was the “real” woman because she had a baby, and I was still a “girl” because I didn’t.

  6. rox
    rox May 17, 2012 at 11:47 am |

    Status? Hmmm. I guess that could be it for some. I had learning disabilities and was seen as a failure/disappointment/underachiever/bad person who needs to choose to be better by my adoptive family who were middle class. Ironically my behavior and functioning abilities are exactly like my biological families, and I really don’t think the problem was a lack of trying.

    I got a job at 16 and as I tried to make my way into the minimum wage life that was my future I became “friends” with an older guy who sexually assaulted me and then claimed he wanted to end my life and also that he needed me or he needed to take his life and I fell into that and couldn’t move or respond when he did things, I just dissociated for like two years. Begged him to stop and to use condoms but it didn’t occur to me to leave and cause him to die, I just assumed that was the wrong thing to do. And I had no one else that actually liked who I was, in the world, so it made sense to try to sort out this really awful situation. I was also sympathetic to the fact he had no one else and really wanted him to have love.

    Our infrastructure is NOT set up to make sure that people who’s families have rejected them and who struggle with life have real love. And I think people need it. In a way I still understand exacly why that meant so much, and I think the love was real on both our parts. The circumstances were just awful.

    So I wound up pregnant. I was immediately attached to the pregnancy as a living entity and as a vegetarian at the time I felt very deeply that all forms of life have meaning and could feel. It was simply how I felt. I wanted what I felt was my child to be. And I wanted my child to be with me forever. I had no desire for abortion or adoption. But ultimately after lecture after lecture from middle class people who “knew best” and “experts” who know that middle class parents are best and adoption has “no effects” on kids
    (As an adoptee I call BS)
    I eventually submitted to the adoption as I admit that I could not provide a middle class life for my child with the impairments and difficulties and earning potential I had. I believe we could have better infrastructure and support to make healthy parenting more possible for people who are not skilled at succeeding at school or the work place.

  7. rox
    rox May 17, 2012 at 11:55 am |

    I want to add something else interesting: My biological siblings have executive dysfunction as does my biological father (their dad). All three of them had positive life outcomes despite memory problems and making more mistakes than others because they had a supportive family that understood and helped them develope coping skills while understanding sometimes they would just make more mistakes than others.

    Rather than give them a lecture every day about how bad they are and they will never make it at life and they are a failure at even trying which is the worst kind of failure you can be and they will never be acceptable in the world and no one will tolerate how horrible they are– which was my life with my adoptive parents.

    Better life my ass.

  8. pillowinhell
    pillowinhell May 17, 2012 at 11:59 am |

    What astounds me, is that this study is news to anyone.

    Its readily apparent in poorer neighborhoods, and people do go to public schools where poorer women are..so why the shock at causality? Oh right, because no one pays attention to what the poor have to say.

    Being a mom when poor isn’t about power, though it does grant some status. Its about finding the only open option to doing something “worthwhile” and “fulfilling”. These young women understand that no matter how hard they work, or how they give back to the community no one gives a shit because anyone can do their jobs (and of course ignoring the fact that few people actually want to do them). Or because when they do work and give back to the community they are just repaying the “debt” to society. Society views people in need as leeches, even children.

  9. RenKiss
    RenKiss May 17, 2012 at 12:12 pm |

    This makes so much sense. Especially the issue of maturity, I’ve witnessed this in high school, as I grew up in low income areas, it’s not uncommon to see pregnant teenage girls. I remember speaking with a woman as to why she chose to have kids at a young age in bad economic circumstances. Her reasoning was that if she did not have children, she would off somewhere doing drugs or just behaving irresponsibly. This was her reasoning.

    I also think there’s a sense that becoming a mother gives them a sense of purpose in life. If you have no hopes for higher education or a well paying job, then motherhood seems like the way to go.

  10. rox
    rox May 17, 2012 at 12:14 pm |

    Another question is… should the poor be allowed to reproduce at all? Because if young parenting works better for them– will it actually be harmful to try to force them all to postpose childbearing until they become rich? (Never?)

    Do we really believe poor people should morally refrain from reproducing in order to self initiate eugenics and eliminate poor people? And who is “we”? Hint; probably not the whole of poor people who may believe their lives are worth living and they wish to bring children into the world.

  11. rox
    rox May 17, 2012 at 12:20 pm |

    Also, I think relationship and parenting readiness should be encouraged over economic prosperity as a marker for entering parenting. Having two parents does make a huge difference (especially when low income) IF you have a partnership that is relatively stable and not violent/scary/etc. Waiting for college achievement or a high paying job is not in the cards for everyone. However you can still learn positive parenting values and techniques and build a healthy relationship within a lower income situation. It is however harder and I think a movement that comes from WITHIN lower income parents guiding each other will make more impact than well meaning educated people scolding the bad poor people. (Although I think both in-group movements and academic oriented movements CAN work together.)

  12. rox
    rox May 17, 2012 at 12:25 pm |

    (not sure if my other comment went through, sorry if this is a double)

    Also, I think relationship and parenting readiness should be encouraged over economic prosperity as a marker for entering parenting. Having two parents does make a huge difference (especially when low income) IF you have a partnership that is relatively stable and not violent/scary/etc. Waiting for college achievement or a high paying job is not in the cards for everyone. However you can still learn positive parenting values and techniques and build a healthy relationship within a lower income situation. It is however harder and I think a movement that comes from WITHIN lower income parents guiding each other will make more impact than well meaning educated people scolding the bad poor people. (Although I think both in-group movements and academic oriented movements CAN work together.)

  13. pillowinhell
    pillowinhell May 17, 2012 at 12:42 pm |

    I think parenting skills and a balanced outlook on what commited relationships actually require from the people in them, would be of great benefit to all income groups. I’m not supporting the idea that everyone should get married or needs relationships, but marriage is common enough and wouldn’t we rather see them suceed?

    Same goes for parenting. It doesn’t matter what social class you come from, you can be a bad parent. Its just easier to hide when you are wealthier, in part because poorer people are assumed to be a greatest risk.

    We need to change the narratives surrounding poor people if children figure that they should get pregnant because otherwise they’ll just be getting high. Parenting should never be about choosing the lesser of two evils.

  14. Lauren
    Lauren May 17, 2012 at 1:00 pm |

    I’m not supporting the idea that everyone should get married or needs relationships, but marriage is common enough and wouldn’t we rather see them suceed?

    Right. Not to mention that marriage has been unsuccessfully peddled as the panacea to poverty before.

    We need to change the narratives surrounding poor people if children figure that they should get pregnant because otherwise they’ll just be getting high. Parenting should never be about choosing the lesser of two evils.

    I was going to respond to the original comment but got really annoyed by it, and I apologize ahead of time for picking apart this comment. The problem with all of this framing is that becoming a parent is being presented as one of many “evils” for poor girls, when damned near every class of people cross-culturally report pleasure and satisfaction in having a parent-child relationship. Yes, absolutely there are exceptions. But. We can hem and haw about the effects of having children on a person’s economic livelihood all day long, but the fact is that all women of all classes have their earning power affected negatively quite literally for one’s lifetime by having children. Richer folks are insulated from the effects of this by their relative wealth. Poor folks are not. Poor girls who don’t start a family early and poor girls who do start a family early don’t have very different long-term outcomes when it comes to earning power and job opportunities. They still don’t have job opportunities or educational opportunities, but the folks that had kids now have the relative pleasure of raising children. For most poor folks, this is a net gain. Not a loss.

    The issue here is not what’s broken in poor kids that makes them parents earlier than when it’s socially acceptable to the middle classes. It’s poverty.

  15. rox
    rox May 17, 2012 at 1:01 pm |

    I want to add, sexual abuse and reproductive coercion are… I think… more common among women with poor scholastic achievement/self esteem/family security etc. When you’re family is not around or doesn’t like you– a relationship with a man can BE your family and what they dictate can seem like what you need to tolerate or else experience abandonment.

    I think saying “codependent relationships are bad!” is a useful starting point, but in reality many people will never become self sufficient in the way that seems to be espoused by many relationship guru’s. I know I likely will never stand up to the average standard and yet I make a lot of difficult decisions and efforts to make sure my child is well cared for in spite of that which I face.

    I don’t think I EVER will be “good enough” in the eyes of some societal narrative. And if the narrative of what consitutes “good enough” is too far out of reach for a whole sect of people, people will still reproduce because somewhere, even if you’re not “good enough” by others standards if you know you will give the most love you can and make sure your child feels love and has good experiences, many of us want our children to exist even if there will be difficult circumstances.

    HOWEVER— I abosolutely agree that every effort should be taken to prevent parenting by people who do not want to embark on this journey with the well being of their children in mind and ready to put forth great efforts to create a loved and cherished child who has a chance at a good life and the ability to grow the skills they need in the world. So no, I certainly do NOT think parenting should be the default that people assume even if they aren’t interesting in taking the journey of transitioning to putting a child’s needs/wants equal and often far above many of their own.

    I do wonder though, the details of how many young women with life adversity become pregnant due to reproductive coercion and abuse. I guess because it happened to me I may worry it’s more common than it is, but I certainly worry that’s a very common cause (which is certainly an often devestating way to begin a parenting journey despite that many may decide they wish to parent such children once concieved)

  16. adhdphd
    adhdphd May 17, 2012 at 1:09 pm |

    I know of no way to study this because of the confounds, but I strongly suspect that of women in these financial and social circumstances, the outcome is *better* with teen pregnancy than later pregnancy or no children.

    In the article they compared teenagers who were pregnant and gave birth against teenagers who were pregnant but miscarried. They also compared teenage mothers against their sisters who did not become teenage mothers. Their financial outcomes were about the same; but it didn’t say anything about their social circumstances.

  17. pillowinhell
    pillowinhell May 17, 2012 at 1:30 pm |

    Lauren, I can see why you’re annoyed and I absolutely agree with you. The trouble is that the way poverty and parenthood is framed from this particular girls point of view, is that it IS the lesser of two evils. That poor people are not allowed to be decent people worthy of respect in their own right.

    The problem of marriage as a panancea for poverty is this: getting married in order to run from life issues, especially when those issues are likely to keep recurring, makes it far more likely that you choose the wrong partner. You end up looking behind you at what you’re running from instead of forward tothe person you are supposed to spend so many years with. It much harder to be introspective when fear guides your choices and hope makes you discount the negative probabilities of life together.

  18. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. May 17, 2012 at 1:46 pm |

    Its surprising to me that this is really a surprise to anyone. I remember people actively encouraging me and my peers to become mothers (after marriage of course). We were often told that going to college was a pipe dream and we just needed to find a nice boy to settle down with so he could take care of us. Its no wonder that girls internalize that hopelessness and take control of their futures in the only way that they believe they can. I am the only woman in my extended familyn to leave high school without becoming pregnant. I attribute that in no small part to having a few people who told meI could get out.

  19. Lauren
    Lauren May 17, 2012 at 1:50 pm |

    Lauren, I can see why you’re annoyed and I absolutely agree with you. The trouble is that the way poverty and parenthood is framed from this particular girls point of view, is that it IS the lesser of two evils. That poor people are not allowed to be decent people worthy of respect in their own right.

    Word. But I also see this as placing too much literal meaning on a teen self-reporting her motivations. I don’t think the literal life choice was either getting pregnant or getting high. The general idea conveyed was that life as a parent sounded better in those circumstances than one screwing around indefinitely without a lot of external purpose. You hear that sentiment a lot, especially when the pregnant teen has options to terminate the pregnancy and decides not to.

  20. Lyra
    Lyra May 17, 2012 at 7:56 pm |

    This post reminded me of a book I read a few years ago for an education class. It’s an ethnography called “Women Without Class: Girls, Race, & Identity” by Julie Bettie.

    This excerpt seems most relevant the current discussion:

    As Penelope Eckert (1993) explains, middle-class performers embrace adult (and I would add middle-class) norms for the adolescent life stage, and this means preparing to enter another institution similar to high school. Non-preps, on the other hand, violate these norms by laying claims to adult status before middle-class adults think they should. Where midlle-class-performing girls (both white and Mexican-American) chose academic performance and the acceptance and praise of teachers’ and parents’ as signs of achieving adult status, non-prep girls earned and wore different “badges of dignity” (Sennett and Cobb 1972; MacLeod 1995). They rejected school-sanctioned notions of proper femininity. For them, expressions of sexuality, and by extension motherhood, operated as a sign of adult status and served to reject teachers’ and parents’ methods of keeping them childlike.”

    Emphasis mine. Also, she mentions white and Mexican-American girls to the exclusion of others because the school in which she conducted her ethnography was primarily that demographic, and those were the girls she got to know.

    The book offers a really interesting perspective of culture inside a school across socioeconomic classes for the students and provides insight into how the education system fails so many people in this country. Especially as the definition for “success” in school is rather limited. Not to derail. This is a discussion for another time.

  21. Lyra
    Lyra May 17, 2012 at 7:57 pm |

    Whoops, emphasis fail.

  22. karak
    karak May 17, 2012 at 8:13 pm |

    It’s not just bleakness–it’s embracing the future. Most of the young women in my community *expect* to be mothers. They want it, it’s a part of their life plan in a way college or long-term aren’t. So, if your life is now, and you’re not extending your childhood into mid-30s by going to college etc, etc, fucking start your life now. No point in waiting.

    And, at 18, if you’re working full-time, supporting yourself, living on your own, with your bills and responsibilities, there’s no difference between you and a 40-year old.

    Like I said, affluence creates extended childhood. Without being infantilized till your mid-20s–in fact, if you’re expected to act like a grown up at 15 or 16, then, hell, by 17 or 19 you’re actually as ready to be a parent as you’re going to get.

    Most stable teenage mothers have their shit together in a way I do not. A few of my friends had kids young, and they were calm, prepared, and level-headed. I’m 26 years old and trying to get this “living on my own” thing to take, and she was 17 and had a weekly dinner menu mapped out.

  23. pillowinhell
    pillowinhell May 17, 2012 at 8:32 pm |

    I’m not so sure about infantilizing. I grew up in a middle class community. My parents came from dirt poverty. Parents worked their asses off to become middle class. The expectation was that by the time I was sixteen I’d have a job and I’d be paying for my own clothing, school supplies and anything else I needed. My parents paid for food and shelter. I was also expected to move out by age eighteen. And that’s what I did. So I suppose it leaves you with a different mindset and better prepared for realities like how much things will cost and what a forty plus hour work week is like. Just different class expectations based on what it takes to maintain the style of living you grew up with.

    Although two years of being given adult responsibilty as well as adult privileges can really cut down on the need to go wild when you first leave home.

  24. Mezzanine
    Mezzanine May 17, 2012 at 9:33 pm |

    karak, how does “going to college” = “extending your childhood”?

    You might have been infantilised until your mid-20s, but that doesn’t mean every child of an affluent household was too.

  25. karak
    karak May 17, 2012 at 10:28 pm |

    @Mezzanine

    When I was in college, I had a cafeteria that produced food. I had loans that produced money, I had a home that was paid for directly from my loans without any work on my part. I had washers and dryers maintained by the school, I had my cable as part of my tuition package. Any time my pipes clogged I called maintenance.

    I worked part time, sure–to pay for my books, not my retirement. My senior year I moved off-campus but still used the cafeteria, dryers, and washers, I borrowed my parents’ car, was on their health insurance, and was part of the family cell phone plan.

    When I was 23 years old, I had never called an electric company or a cable company. I had never had a 401K. I’d never had a kitchen. I had no idea how coddled I was and how easy life was as a college student until I wasn’t one.

    And then I graduated with no money. My parents knew they’d have to help and support me for at least another year–I had to find a job, get enough paychecks for a down payment on a car and a house/apartment, and, in the meantime, start mastering all the life-skills I hadn’t grasped. Not to mention I had an enormous fucking debt to pay off. There’s a reason that health insurance can now cover you till you’re 26–it’s because most college graduates won’t have the skills or finances to live independently until that age.

    My friends who went right to work had little debt, used their saved money from high school jobs to get an apartment, and were able to work their way up in local jobs–a friend of mine who worked at McDonalds is now a manager and pulling in double what I am with my shiny diploma.

    College is, for a lot of students, an extended childhood, where the responsibilities of adulthood are delayed so we can focus on our studies, networking, and hopefully, increase our career opportunities. We then have to learn at 23-25 what our peers learned at 18-20. We’re behind.

    And that’s what affluence is; delaying adulthood so that other skills can be acquired. The more affluent a society, the longer they delay childbirth, and the longer parents, well, parent their kids. Europe is seeing a huge problem with people delaying independence, so is Japan and so is middle-class Americans.

  26. karak
    karak May 17, 2012 at 10:28 pm |

    @Mezzanine

    When I was in college, I had a cafeteria that produced food. I had loans that produced money, I had a home that was paid for directly from my loans without any work on my part. I had washers and dryers maintained by the school, I had my cable as part of my tuition package. Any time my pipes clogged I called maintenance.

    I worked part time, sure–to pay for my books, not my retirement. My senior year I moved off-campus but still used the cafeteria, dryers, and washers, I borrowed my parents’ car, was on their health insurance, and was part of the family cell phone plan.

    When I was 23 years old, I had never called an electric company or a cable company. I had never had a 401K. I’d never had a kitchen. I had no idea how coddled I was and how easy life was as a college student until I wasn’t one.

    And then I graduated with no money. My parents knew they’d have to help and support me for at least another year–I had to find a job, get enough paychecks for a down payment on a car and a house/apartment, and, in the meantime, start mastering all the life-skills I hadn’t grasped. Not to mention I had an enormous fucking debt to pay off. There’s a reason that health insurance can now cover you till you’re 26–it’s because most college graduates won’t have the skills or finances to live independently until that age.

    My friends who went right to work had little debt, used their saved money from high school jobs to get an apartment, and were able to work their way up in local jobs–a friend of mine who worked at McDonalds is now a manager and pulling in double what I am with my shiny diploma.

    College is, for a lot of students, an extended childhood, where the responsibilities of adulthood are delayed so we can focus on our studies, networking, and hopefully, increase our career opportunities. We then have to learn at 23-25 what our peers learned at 18-20. We’re behind.

    And that’s what affluence is; delaying adulthood so that other skills can be acquired. The more affluent a society, the longer they delay childbirth, and the longer parents, well, parent their kids. Europe is seeing a huge problem with people delaying independence, so is Japan and so is middle-class Americans.

  27. Mezzanine
    Mezzanine May 17, 2012 at 10:54 pm |

    Good for you. Doesn’t change my central point: that *not every* child of an affluent household has the same experience.

    I went to uni, and yet still had a part-time job, paid my parents money for my board, planned and cooked daily meals for the entire family, and did household chores.

    “Infantilisation” isn’t an inevitable outcome of your class.

  28. tholbrook
    tholbrook May 17, 2012 at 11:24 pm |

    Karak, I really think you’re conflating privilege with a rather unexpected interpretation of the term infantilization.

  29. karak
    karak May 18, 2012 at 2:38 am |

    @Mezzanine– pointing out a trend common to a social class is exactly like saying every single person in that socioeconomic bracket has the same lived experience. That’s why *every single* young woman in poverty has kids in her teens.

    @tholbrook: unless my mother mislead me terribly in my vocabulary lessons, I think I’m using the term appropriately. How many times do people talk about “college adults”? No, it’s “college kids”. I was still living off my parents at age 23, when I graduated. My background gives me an extended childhood to “find myself”, travel, acquire further education, network, and so on. I think it’s appropriate to talk about the milestones for adulthood different classes and backgrounds have, especially in the context of this article. I wasn’t an adult till I finished college and got a full-time “real” job. Other people are considered adults when they finish high school. Or when they have their first child. If having a baby inducts you into the halls of maturity, you will meet that milestone. If delaying independence until 23 for education is a important milestone, you’ll do that.

    There was an article a while back–it might have been here–about two warring philosophies: one that babies made adults, the other than adults made babies. I fall into the latter category–I’m not “supposed to” have a kid till I’ve proven I’m grown up. My friends fell into the former–having a baby proved you were grown up, it made you grow up.

    My mom had me at 18, two months after she graduated high school, and claims I was her biggest motivator to go to college, get a job, and create a stable life–for me. My friend’s mother had her children at 35, after her Master’s degree, and refers to children lovingly as “an expensive hobby”. There’s a big philosophical difference there. It’s worth exploring.

  30. RenKiss
    RenKiss May 18, 2012 at 6:57 am |

    So karak if I understand your post correctly are you saying that when a someone moves out their parents home by the time they’re 18 and already has a steady job and a family, that makes them adults?

    I’m getting the feeling you’re implying that when someone chooses to spend time getting a college degree, that somehow delays “adulthood.” Or do we need to define what it means to be an adult? I mean you say that in college people have their food cafeteria produced, that’s true to do a certian degree, however, you still have to learn how to cook on your own, especially on a shoe string budget. You still have to learn how to manage finances, even if you’re getting financial aid or scholarships.

  31. bleh
    bleh May 18, 2012 at 7:01 am |

    “These young women understand that no matter how hard they work, or how they give back to the community no one gives a shit” I find that in the middle class midwest this is true for all women when compared to giving birth.

  32. Luna
    Luna May 18, 2012 at 7:35 am |

    My mom was a poor teen mom who never married. My older sister was a poor teen mom who just got married 10 years later. It’s definitely a boon for my older sister to have a mom that’s so young that she can still help care for the grandkid, plus my mom actually has another young child that can hang out and play with my neice (My little sister is 8).

    I’m 27, and my mom’s been bugging me to get preggers for years, even though I’m not married and still poor :) Some people just love children! I’ve known TONS of teen moms (I work in a stripclub and almost all the women fit this description and I grew up in a poor community) and they all can’t imagine their lives without their kids and wouldn’t have had it any other way.

    I agree with many of y’alls comments. Poor women aren’t “waiting” for anything. How many of us are realistically gonna need to set aside 4-8+ years of strenuous academic study post-high school anyway? Or even go to college at all? (Besides maybe community college or some 2-year trade school at some point.)

  33. EG
    EG May 18, 2012 at 8:01 am |

    The problem is that saying that certain skills = becoming an adult suggests that adulthood is about having a set of skills, without any reference to the person who must learn and utilize them. My late best friend was orphaned at 14 after her mother had been incapacitated by illness for years. By the time she was 13 she was keeping the house, buying and preparing the food, worrying about money, doing the laundry, caring for herself, her sick mother, and her little sister. Those are adult skills, but that doesn’t mean she was an adult, because she wasn’t. She was a neglected kid. And it didn’t make her ready to be a parent by 16. It made her someone who had been so cheated of her childhood that it never occurred to her that she or anybody else should take care of her.

    You can acquire and use adult skills at a variety of ages, but it’s the person who has to be an adult.

  34. EG
    EG May 18, 2012 at 8:01 am |

    (follow-up to comment in mod):

    And she wasn’t a parent at 16, just to clarify. But she did end up with a series of older boyfriends who expected her to take care of them.

  35. pillowinhell
    pillowinhell May 18, 2012 at 9:33 am |

    There’s a lot of intersectionality going on in when someone is considered an adult here. Part of it is social class, part of it is cultural background. Many cultures pretty much insist on progeny staying home until marriage, which is often put off until mid twenties. In the case of men, its time to find a stable job or career to support his own family to be, as well as to take some of the financial burden off the parents as the family prepares the younger children for parenthood. Young women do often hold jobs for much the same reasons. The family works together as a unit, providing for each other and putting off certain personal goals because in the long run the family prospers. It contrasts with modern. North American lifestyles, where parents are pushed to provide everything for their children even at the expense of their own future well being.

    North America is unusual in expecting children to be out of the house and preferably married by ages eighteen to twenty. Its also a relatively new concept for the middle class or working poor. Historically, marriages and childbirth tended towards midtwenties. Young marital partners would more likely have stayed with their family until they were financially stable enough to live on their own.

  36. Angie unduplicated
    Angie unduplicated May 18, 2012 at 10:50 am |

    Poor families have survival pressures many of us don’t have. A teen who can get no other job can get Medicaid, a paycheck, food stamps, and WIC if she has a baby. In an extended family which already is living marginally, that makes a huge difference.
    The cultural pressures to “prove you’re a woman” are everywhere, and not just from men who try to extort sex this way. I was in my 30’s, and working two jobs, when one of my part-time coworkers used the cultural construct against me upon discovering that I was childless.
    An unacknowledged part of this attitude may be “misery loves company”, i.e. I had to do it and now I’ll make you do it too.

  37. LongHairedWeirdo
    LongHairedWeirdo May 21, 2012 at 8:32 pm |

    In other words: Class mobility is key. And where teenage girls don’t see much potential for moving upward — and they’re often right in that assessment — they have babies earlier than they would if their prospects were more promising.

    Herm. Couldn’t that be victim blaming?

    “They have babies earlier” – how about “their lack of mobility robs them of the incentive other women have to avoid pregnancy?”

    Do women consciously choose to have babies earlier? Or are they trying not to – but, well, deep down, they know what’s going to happen, they’re going to end up (if they’re lucky)-working poor, with one or more children, so when the condom breaks, or the boyfriend refuses to wear it, it’s more like the doom they knew would happen sooner or later?

  38. pillowinhell
    pillowinhell May 21, 2012 at 8:55 pm |

    It’s not a case of deep down inside. Poor people cannot afford self delusion. The chances of working your way out of deep poverty ar vanishingly slim if you aren’t a prodigy. Also, class values are quite different in many respects. Institutional policies serve to entrench those differences, frequently driving the poor away from education and opportunity. As all humans seek some form of meaning in life, and being a parent is meaningful, the poorer women will choose to become mothers.

    The big drivers for human motivation are wealth, status, power and connectedness to others.

    So the question becomes, why choose to see victims? Why is this always a matter of where to apportion blame? All the finger pointing over the years has done not one iota to change the lot of the poor.

    Having a family at whatever time of life is a valid choice. We could just as easily turn this conversation aroundto ask why so many middle class women are being forced to wait so very long for the families many desperately wish to start. I doubt middle class women will relish the role of victim much.

  39. Lyra
    Lyra May 22, 2012 at 1:14 am |

    I’m not seeing the victim blaming. Perhaps because I’m not seeing these girls as victims? The point is that they have agency and that they are making choices. And yes, there is literature that supports that assertion. Obviously it doesn’t mean every pregnancy is planned (as it’s not in every age bracket), but it’s unfair to say that just because they’re teens, they couldn’t possibly make a considered choice to have a child.

    That’s also not to say that the system isn’t broken and the real lack of class mobility isn’t a problem. But that’s a separate issue.

  40. Lauren M
    Lauren M May 22, 2012 at 3:42 am |

    One thing that keeps coming to my mind as I think on this issue, especially in terms of “what makes an adult,” is just because these young (poor) mothers are deriving some pleasure, maybe some power, or even adult status by having a child doesn’t mean that they are emotionally or psychologically ready or capable to be parents. Sure, they feel like they have no future, no options, no prospects, so why not just get pregnant and have a purpose to their life by raising a child, but just because they learn how to meal plan and change diapers, doesn’t mean they have an meaningful insights as far as parenting goes. What experiences or resources do they have to empower their children to stop this cycle of hopelessness.

    Everyone gets pregnant early where I’m from. If you haven’t gotten pregnant in high school, you get pregnant in college. Most girls I know, from school or from my family never finished the secondary education they started because of their pregnancy. So, lower class may not make it to the end of HS as a result of pregnancy, lower middle-class won’t make it to the end of secondary education as a result of pregnancy. The issue that I’m driving at is, the fact that these results are considered the norm is the problem. It’s hard to find pleasure in life for anyone, especially anyone who has no foreseeable prospects in the future, and motherhood can offer some stability and self-confidence much in the way that success can, but what happens to these women when their baby no longer needs them? What happens to these women when their children grow up, especially in the teen years of rejecting the parent? These women are left with that original hole that needed to be filled with a feeling of purpose. To say that getting pregnant is the only means of power for poor young women is, in my mind, very short-sighted and defeatist. So we are dooming poor young women to a choice that has still ultimately left them unfulfilled, hasn’t opened up any new opportunities, and has given them a false sense of power. And, of course, the cycle will continue when their progeny heads down the same path, either out of lack of foreseeable future or to rebel against the pressures put on them by the adults trying to live out their failed dreams and push their children to do what they never did. I just can’t let myself believe that becoming a mother is the only way for a woman to achieve self-respect, confidence, or power.

  41. pillowinhell
    pillowinhell May 22, 2012 at 1:47 pm |

    “s just because these young (poor) mothers are deriving some pleasure, maybe some power, or even adult status by having a child doesn’t mean that they are emotionally or psychologically ready or capable to be parents. “.

    And how many parents of any class can truly call themselves ready emotionally or psychologically for raising children? Isn’t that why feminists and people who care about the well being of children are trying to create more supports? How mature, capable and ready a person is has little to do with class. That’s very much the province of individual personality, temperment and experience. What is it about this narrative that creates a need to infantilize someone based on their income?

    “Sure, they feel like they have no future, no options, no prospects,”. It could also be that they realize there are no further hoops for them to jump through before becoming parents. Or it could be that since wealth and money are pretty much out of reach, they’ve chosen to value family relationships more.

    ” These women are left with that original hole that needed to be filled with a feeling of purpose.”. And so what’s the deal with middle class women who feel the same way? Especially women who’ve experienced difficulty in conceiving or haven’t found the right partner. Could it be that this is an area where women can stand in solidarity regardless of class?

    The rest of your post is much the same for parents regardless of class. Its called empty nest syndrome and deals with having to redefine yourself and your life as your children become increasingly independant.

    This might surprise you, but even a low paid job can be quite fulfulling to work in. There are a variety of factors that go into how one percieves ones job. Also, just because you’re on a career track there’s no garentee that you will find it fulfilling or any more satisfying than someone working in food service.

    Its interesting to note the underlying assumptions on differences between the well to do and the poor.

  42. Lauren M
    Lauren M May 22, 2012 at 2:25 pm |

    “This might surprise you, but even a low paid job can be quite fulfulling to work in. There are a variety of factors that go into how one percieves ones job. Also, just because you’re on a career track there’s no garentee that you will find it fulfilling or any more satisfying than someone working in food service.

    Its interesting to note the underlying assumptions on differences between the well to do and the poor.”

    I guess I am still confused, because I grew up poor, without a father, and with a mother on welfare, so “my assumptions” about the poor came from my own experiences. And, of course, I understand that even a low paying job can be very satisfying, I’ve had quite a few of them.

    Believe me, I would in no way mean to infantilize someone just because of their income. I’ve seen young women highly capable of mothering, and some less, and it had nothing to do with how much money they or their family earned.

    I’m sure there are statistics on this, and I’m sure I don’t know them, but I’ve seen more young mothers left to do all the work on their own. I see more young mothers, who started out poor and marginalized have to raise their children without a father. This how I was looking at the issue. Of course, I only want to stand in solidarity with other women. I only want to empower other women to make the choices that THEY want to make, and not the choices society tells them they want to make.

    So, while I agree with you on the fact that age and certainly not income do not dictate whether one is ready to parent, what about the choosing of a partner? Are there not lessons we learn in our 20’s that help us in the choosing. I know that was my experience.

    I see that this a question of are these women to be considered victims or not. I can see it both ways. I just fear women being sold an ideal of power that is false just to placate them and keep them marginalized.

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