Context: Given that many communities are implementing community-wide initiatives to reduce teenage pregnancy or childbearing, it is important to understand the effects of a community's characteristics on adolescent birthrates.
Methodology: Data from the 1990 census and from California birth certificates were obtained for zip codes in California. Regression analyses were conducted on data from zip code areas with at least 200 females aged 15-17 between 1991 and 1996, to predict the effects of race and ethnicity marital status, education, employment, income and poverty, and housing on birthrates among young teenagers.
Results: In bivariate analyses, the proportion of families living below poverty level within a zip code was highly related to the birthrate among young teenagers in that zip code (r=.80, p<.001). In multivariate analyses, which controlled for some of the correlates of family poverty level, the proportion of families living below poverty level remained by far the most important predictor of the birthrate among young teenagers (b=1.54), followed by the proportion of adults aged 25 or older who have a college education (b=-0.80). Race and ethnicity were only weakly related to birthrate. In all three racial and ethnic groups, poverty and education were significantly related to birthrate, but the effect of college education was greater among Hispanics (b=-2.98) than among either non-Hispanic whites (b=-0.53) or blacks (b=-1.12). Male employment and unemployment and female unemployment were highly related to the birthrate among young teenagers in some racial or ethnic groups, but not in others.
Conclusions: Multiple manifestations of poverty, including poverty itself, low levels of education and employment, and high levels of unemployment, may have a large impact upon birthrates among young teenagers. Addressing some of these issues could substantially reduce childbearing among young adolescents.