Does Being a Good Reader Protect Young Girls From Teen Pregnancy?

A new study says raising literacy levels could lower teen pregnancy rates.

Posted: 11/16/2012 08:30 AM EST

A new study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania suggests that if we want to lower teen pregnancy rates in the U.S., perhaps we should raise young girls reading levels.

Researchers looked at more than 12,000 reading scores from seventh grade girls enrolled in Philadelphia public schools and compared it to any pregnancies and subsequent births from that same group. They found that the girls who had lower reading skills were 2.5 times more likely to give birth as a teen than those with average reading skills.

Also from the study, African-American girls and Latinas were more likely to have below average reading skills than their white counterparts and were more likely to have given birth as well.

According to Medical News Today, other key findings included:

Twenty-one percent of girls with below-average reading levels had one live birth during the six-year examination period, while three percent of girls with below-average reading levels had two or more live births within that period.

On the other hand, only 12 percent of girls with average reading skills had one live birth and one percent had two or more live births. Of the girls with above average reading skills, five percent had one live birth and 0.4 percent had two or more live births.

But why does this connection exist?

Obviously, low literacy isn’t the main predictor of teen pregnancy — poverty, lack of access to birth control and abstinence-only education also play a role. Also, young girls don’t always have control over pregnancy prevention. Past studies have shown that in many heterosexual relationships, condom use is up to the male partner due to gender dynamics.

But the study’s authors believe their findings and their connection is important, too.

“It is quite possible that adolescent girls who experience a daily sense of rejection in the classroom might feel as though they have little chance of achievement later on in life," said Rosemary Frasso, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. "Our findings underscore the role of literacy as its own social risk factor throughout the life-course."

Teen pregnancy may be declining on a national level, but it’s still an issue, especially in our community.

In April, reported that while teen pregnancy rates have hit an all-time low among all race and ethnicities, disparities still remain. Latino, Native American and Alaskan teenage birth rates dropped by 12 percent, while African-American and white rates dropped by 9 percent. Latinos still hold the highest numbers with 55.7 births of every 1,000 births. Black teen mothers were not too far behind with 51.5 births for every 1,000 births.

To learn more about teen pregnancy and forms of contraceptives you can use to prevent pregnancy, STDs and HIV, go here.

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(Photo: Alistair Berg/GettyImages)

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