Pregnancy Risk Among the Younger Sisters of Pregnant and Childbearing Adolescents

J Dev Behav Pediatr. 1992 Apr;13(2):128-36. doi: 10.1097/00004703-199204000-00010.


There is increasing evidence that younger sisters of childbearing teenagers are at increased risk for adolescent childbearing. We critically review this research and discuss three plausible theoretical explanations (social modeling, shared parenting influences, and shared societal risk) why the younger sisters of childbearing adolescents would themselves be at risk for teenage pregnancy. Considerations for preventive interventions aimed at the younger sisters of pregnant teenagers and directions for future research are discussed.

PIP: Social learning theory, shared parenting effects, and a shared societal risk interpretation are reviewed in order to fill the gap in understanding through what processes and under what conditions adolescent pregnancy and childbearing influence a sister's tendency toward adolescent childbearing. Each theory provides an explanation about the nature of the sister's influence on the sexual attitudes, behavior, and childbearing decisions of other children in the family. Social learning theory places emphasis on the active role of the sibling in socializing younger siblings. There may be a negative socialization process where sisters accept premarital sexual intercourse as the norm and accept single parenthood as a way to achieve adult status. The theory of shared parenting postulates that the parenting environment influences sisters through strategies of discipline and control, communication of values, and parental marital status of family structure. The theory of shared societal risk stipulates that it is the shared socioeconomic status and social class, particularly being poor, black, and from a single-parent family in an inner city neighborhood, that increases risk for early sexual initiation and pregnancy. Unfavorable social circumstances and tolerance for early unwed parenting in the black community contribute to the life course experiences of all sisters within a family. Prior to this discussion, 4 studies by Friede et al', Goldfarb et al', Hogan and Kitagawa, and Cox et al, are discussed as evidence that a strong relationship exists between the risks of adolescent sisters' childbearing. The findings of these studies show that in 3 out of 4 studies there is a 1.8-2 fold increased rate of childbearing among the sisters of pregnant and childbearing teenagers; the studies were nationally representative and involved large sample sizes. Considerations for interventions and directions for future research are also provided. Interventions must be attuned to the problems of identification, accessibility, and participation of the high risk group. A group discussion approach which includes sisters may be of benefit. Future research might consider comparisons of the 3 frameworks in order to answer how important each is in accounting for similar patterns of childbearing among sisters. Multidisciplinary approaches in behavioral pediatrics, family sociology, and developmental psychology would be beneficial.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Aid to Families with Dependent Children
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imitative Behavior
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy in Adolescence / psychology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sibling Relations*
  • Social Environment*