Do Teens Make Rational Choices? The Case of Teen Nonmarital Childbearing
With emphasis on the role of economic incentives, we explore the determinants of a woman’s choice of whether or not to give birth as an unmarried teenager. Our data are taken from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. Guided by a simple utility-maximization model, we represent the income possibilities available to teenaged women if they do and do not give birth out of wedlock. We estimate these choice-conditioned income possibilities through a two-stage probit procedure, relying on the observed incomes of a secondary sample of somewhat older women. The response of the young women in our primary sample to these income expectations is measured after controlling for the effects of a variety of other factors, including the characteristics of the girl’s family, the social and economic environment in which she lives (including such policy-related factors as expenditures by states on family planning programs and education), and her own prior choices. We use the estimated structural parameters from our model to simulate the effects of a variety of policy interventions on the probability of becoming an unmarried teen mother. Our estimations provide evidence that income expectations have a persistent influence on the childbearing decision. They also provide evidence that the provision of public family planning expenditures and increases in parental education could reduce the prevalence of teen nonmarital births.
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