Books instead of condoms?
A girl’s reading skills in middle school may be a strong predictor of whether she gets pregnant as a teenager.
According to a recent study in the journal Contraception, seventh grade girls who had difficulty with reading were more likely to get pregnant during high school. More than 20% of girls with reading difficulties in middle school had at least one child during the next several years. Literacy skills are often thought of as factors directly associated with poor schools, social class, or race, but this study suggests that they play a role all by themselves, since the researchers controlled for these already established risk factors for teen pregnancy.
Why do reading skills make a difference?
My dissertation study of girls who were graduates of a nonprofit in Boston, who were already high-achieving public school students before they began the program after eighth grade, may provide a few clues. Girls who demonstrate their academic abilities by this age may be more likely to get more positive reinforcement and personal, caring attention from teachers and other adults in their lives. When girls show an interest in and aptitude for reading, their teachers and other adult role models are likely to note and encourage this. In my study, the girls from urban schools discussed how being “smart” — being good at school and at reading — allowed them to be singled out for special programs and focus in their schools and outside activities. As high-achieving girls, they formed closer relationships with their teachers and school staff than other students did.
From a public health perspective, this study certainly suggests that we should be helping girls with their academic troubles well before they get into high school and before they begin having sex.