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The Sexual Activity and Birth-Control Use of American Teenagers

In: Risky Behavior among Youths: An Economic Analysis

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  • Phillip B. Levine

Abstract

This paper evaluates the evidence regarding teens' sexual activity and birth control use with an emphasis on the contribution of economic analysis. Researchers in other disciplines often view teen sexual activity as spontaneous and irrational, so that teen pregnancies are often considered "mistakes." Economists' focus on the costs and benefits of alternative actions leads them to view sexual activity and contraceptive use as "decisions." After documenting recent trends, I review the research on these activities from both economists and other social scientists. I then present the results of two empirical exercises. The first estimates the relationship between a multitude of individual and family characteristics and the likelihood that a teen engages in sexual activity and uses contraception. The second examines whether changes in the costs of sexual activity and contraceptive use are related to changes in these behaviors. The results support the view that costs matter, implying that there is some underlying decision process. The analysis then proceeds to examine the cost of teen childbearing by reviewing evidence regarding the subsequent well-being of women who became mothers in their teens. The final section utilizes the results of this analysis to help evaluate possible policies designed to reduce the level of unprotected sexual activity by teens.

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This chapter was published in:

  • Jonathan Gruber, 2001. "Risky Behavior among Youths: An Economic Analysis," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number grub01-1.
    This item is provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Chapters with number 10689.

    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:10689

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    1. Lundberg, S. & Plotnick, R.D., 1994. "Adolescent Premarital Childbearing: Do Economic Incentives Matters?," Working Papers 94-4, University of Washington, Department of Economics.
    2. Ted O'Donoghue and Matthew Rabin ., 1997. "Doing It Now or Later," Economics Working Papers, University of California at Berkeley 97-253, University of California at Berkeley.
    3. Akerlof, George A & Yellen, Janet L & Katz, Michael L, 1996. "An Analysis of Out-of-Wedlock Childbearing in the United States," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, MIT Press, vol. 111(2), pages 277-317, May.
    4. Arleen Leibowitz & Winston Chow & Marvin Eisen, 1986. "An economic model of teenage pregnancy decision-making," Demography, Springer, vol. 23(1), pages 67-77, February.
    5. Deborah Haas-Wilson, 1996. "The Impact of State Abortion Restrictions on Minors' Demand for Abortions," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 31(1), pages 140-158.
    6. Arline Geronimus & Sanders Korenman, 1993. "The socioeconomic costs of teenage childbearing: Evidence and interpretation," Demography, Springer, vol. 30(2), pages 281-290, May.
    7. Robert W. Fairlie & Rebecca A. London, 1997. "The effect of incremental benefit levels on births to AFDC recipients," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 16(4), pages 575-597.
    8. Diane J. Macunovich, 1995. "The Butz-Ward Fertility Model in the Light of More Recent Data," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 30(2), pages 229-255.
    9. Phillip B. Levine & Amy B. Trainor & David J. Zimmerman, 1995. "The Effect of Medicaid Abortion Funding Restrictions on Abortions, Pregnancies, and Births," NBER Working Papers 5066, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Gerald S. Oettinger, 1999. "The Effects of Sex Education on Teen Sexual Activity and Teen Pregnancy," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, University of Chicago Press, vol. 107(3), pages 606-635, June.
    11. Rebecca M. Blank & Christine C. George & Rebecca A. London, 1994. "State Abortion Rates: The Impact of Policies, Providers, Politics, Demographics, and Economic Environment," NBER Working Papers 4853, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Saul Hoffman & E. Foster & Frank Furstenberg, 1993. "Reevaluating the costs of teenage childbearing: Response to Geronimus and Korenman," Demography, Springer, vol. 30(2), pages 291-296, May.
    13. Joshua D. Angrist & William N. Evans, 1996. "Schooling and Labor Market Consequences of the 1970 State Abortion Reforms," NBER Working Papers 5406, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    14. Ann E. Horvath-Rose & H. Elizabeth Peters, 2000. "Welfare Waivers and Non-Marital Childbearing," JCPR Working Papers 128, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
    15. Kane, Thomas J & Staiger, Douglas, 1996. "Teen Motherhood and Abortion Access," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, MIT Press, vol. 111(2), pages 467-506, May.
    16. Matthews, S. & Ribar, D. & Wilhelm, M., 1995. "The Effects of Economic Conditions and Access to Reproductive Health Services on State Abortion and Birth Rates," Papers 7-95-4, Pennsylvania State - Department of Economics.
    17. Susan L. Averett & Daniel I. Rees & Laura M. Argys, 2000. "Welfare generosity, pregnancies and abortions among unmarried AFDC recipients," Journal of Population Economics, Springer, vol. 13(4), pages 569-594.
    18. Geronimus, Arline T & Korenman, Sanders, 1992. "The Socioeconomic Consequences of Teen Childbearing Reconsidered," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, MIT Press, vol. 107(4), pages 1187-214, November.
    19. Avner Ahituv & V. Joseph Hotz & Tomas Philipson, 1996. "The Responsiveness of the Demand for Condoms to the Local Prevalence of AIDS," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 31(4), pages 869-897.
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