The Public Interest

Should we discourage teenage marriage?

Maris A. Vinovskis & P. Lindsay Chase-Lansdale

Spring 1987

ADOLESCENT sexual activity, pregnancy, and childbearing have received an extraordinary amount of public and scholarly attention during the past decade. The enormous interest in the topic stems from concern about the negative consequences to the mother, to her children, and to society as a whole. Public concern has been further galvanized by the dramatic increase in the number of out-of-wedlock births. Indeed, it is estimated that half of the federal expenditures for Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) in 1975 went to families where the woman had had her first child as a teenager. Many observers, however, seem to accept the irreversibility of the growing tendency for teen mothers not to marry. Indeed, some would even discourage pregnant teenagers from marrying because they believe that an early marriage would curtail the adolescent’s education and lead to an early divorce. Although there seems to be a near-consensus among social scientists that teenage marriages are impermanent and disadvantageous to the mother and her child, no one has recently reviewed the scientific basis for these ideas nor analyzed the implications for past and future policy when we discourage teenagers from marrying.

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