Teen Mothers & Their Financial Problems

Some teen mothers can't take care of all their baby's needs independently, but their lifetime wages may be lower too.

The financial problems of teenage mothers can extend beyond being unable to afford the daily expenses of having a child. Many adolescent mothers are unable to finish their education and therefore limit their lifetime earnings potential. Furthermore, because of a number of factors, their children often don't do as well academically either and may also grow up suffering financially. Like all other forms of adolescent risk-taking, however, teen parenting is not a death sentence, and teen moms can overcome problems with finances.

Teen Pregnancy Research and Statistics

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2008, there were 41.5 births among every 1,000 teenage girls ages 15 to 19, making teenage birth rates slightly down from 2006 figures. The think tank Child Trends says that in 2006, teen pregnancies shot up after the country experienced a 14-year decline, thanks to more sex education and the accessibility of contraceptives. The decline in the most recent figures, though, is largely due to older teens, 18- and 19-year-olds, having fewer births.

In addition, abortion has had an effect on the statistics. According to the Urban Institute, teen mothers are more likely to become dependent upon public assistance and have constantly changing and turbulent family structures. Some experience more cohabitation, marriage and divorce than women who have children later in life. More teen mothers already come from a disadvantaged background too, so their financial and family troubles only compound when they give birth at an early age.

Baby’s Needs

Among the major troubles teen moms have is not having a job to buy the necessities needed for caring for an infant or young child. Even if they do, teen moms typically work few hours because of school or quit school and earn too little money. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that a single parent living on a low income needs close to $10,000 just to take care of the baby for the first year. That's not just for formula, diapers and child care, which are exorbitantly priced even to older two-parent families, but also for medical care, transportation and housing costs. What compounds this problem is that many teen moms have another child while they are still teens, making it practically impossible to care for their children independently. And although some teen fathers have high levels of involvement, according to research published in the "Families Relations" journal, they too are financially dependent, for the most part, and can't provide all the money a baby needs.

Teen Mom’s Needs

While pregnant, teen mothers usually cannot afford the many doctor visits, vitamins, ultrasounds and other aspects of prenatal care unless they get public assistance or are covered by their parents. When there is a problem with the baby, the lack of money becomes an even bigger issue. According to the Urban Institute, teen mothers have more low-birth-weight babies and infants with special needs, raising the hospital and health care costs that must be borne by someone. Following birth, all parents experience the squeeze of infant medical care, copayments, prescriptions, lab costs and immunizations, so the burden on teen moms often is even greater.

Mom’s Education and Job Prospects

The biggest financial issue teen mothers face is that having a baby so young reduces their opportunities to finish school and get advanced education or job training. Significant numbers of teen mothers drop out of school, never get married and live in poverty relying on public assistance most of their lives. About 51 percent of teen mothers get a high school diploma and no further education. Fifteen percent get a GED by age 22, and 34 percent get neither, according to Child Trends.

Lack of education can severely depress the amount of money earned over a lifetime. Because many will work long hours to support their children, teen mothers also have less time to devote to enriching their children's educational experiences. Children of teen mothers face an uphill battle in doing as well as children from older mothers on reading and math aptitudes as well as in behavioral issues. The problems often follow them into adulthood, and without significant effort, children of teen mothers can face a life of low income and financial struggle as well.

Government Spending

According to Child Trends, researchers working for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy in 2006 estimated the total public cost of teenagers having babies at about $9 billion each year. Most of that is due to public assistance payments for child care and medical care, but significant parts of the cost are due to child welfare spending for problems with neglect and maltreatment and foster care, incarceration and the lost tax revenue by the millions of mothers who are not in the workforce.

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