Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Kids Are Alright

It would be easy enough to characterize the rise (or even the general rate) of teen pregnancy as simply the result of youthful ignorance, dumb impulse, or even the usual polarized cultural excuses of abstinence or condom education. All of them have a part to play, no doubt.

But perhaps there's an economic factor that not only complements but supersedes the usual tedious cultural explanations. Maybe it happens when people stop viewing unplanned pregnancies as an impediment to their future upward mobility, because they don't feel that they have any upward mobility to look forward to. Hell, not all of them are unplanned anyway, which presents another set of issues.

The [New York] Times article quotes a 19-year-old Guatemalan woman named Amalia Raymundo, who "was a rising star in her remote village in Guatemala, the region’s beauty queen and a candidate for college scholarships." Because of her experiences in American public school, Amalia saw that her dreams of becoming a doctor were so far out of her reach, she thought about dropping out. “If I am going to end up cleaning houses with my mother ... why go to high school?”

Exactly. Where's the disincentive, if you're not going to go to college and get that sweet law degree anyway? It may be even more true in small towns, where the opportunities are all elsewhere, so staying is itself a life decision on a par with getting knocked up.

Sometimes it seems like viewing social and cultural issues through the prism of economic opportunity -- especially the economic empowerment of women -- is like beating a dead horse, yet it's an undeniably compelling common element. Perhaps when the Democrats get that 90-seat margin in the Senate, they'll pay attention to mundane things such as income disparity and wage stagnation, which are the real hidden drivers behind the economic crises, and the different ways those problems touch people's lives. Not as entertaining as the rubbers-versus-abstinence scrums, but probably more useful.

1 comment:

Marius said...

Just as there was a time when Cheney was sober-minded, so there was a past when Byron Dorgan actually made a lot of sense. A right-winger had the courage to admit that the game was all a huge casino.

Imagine that.