Pregnancy among three national samples of runaway and homeless youth

J Adolesc Health. 1998 Dec;23(6):370-7. doi: 10.1016/s1054-139x(98)00071-8.


Purpose: To compare estimates of the prevalence of pregnancy among runaway and homeless youth between the ages of 14 and 17 years in various settings with each other and with youth in the general population.

Methods: Comparisons used three surveys of youth: (a) the first nationally representative survey of runaway and homeless youth residing in federally and nonfederally funded shelters, (b) a multicity survey of street youth, and (c) a nationally representative household survey of youth with and without recent runaway and homeless experiences.

Results: Youth living on the streets had the highest lifetime rates of pregnancy (48%), followed by youth residing in shelters (33%) and household youth (<10%).

Conclusions: Shelter and street youth were at much greater risk of having ever been pregnant than were youth in households, regardless of whether they had recent runaway or homeless experiences. Such youth need comprehensive services, including pregnancy prevention, family planning, and prenatal and parenting services.

PIP: This study estimated and compared adolescent pregnancy rates among runaway and homeless adolescents in several settings. Data were obtained through 3 surveys: 1) a 1992 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) among a nationally representative sample with recent runaway and homeless youth experiences; 2) the first nationally representative survey among a multistage sample of runaway and homeless youth living in federally and nonfederally funded youth shelters; and 3) the first multi-city survey of street youth. Data were collected among youth aged 14-17 years in 1992. Findings indicate that in all surveys youth were usually pregnant only once, but many street and shelter youth had 2 or more pregnancies. About 10% of both street and shelter youth reported being pregnant at the time of the interview. Significant differences occurred by age among street youth and for length of time away among both street and shelter youth. About 50% of street youth had a pregnancy experience compared to about 33% living in shelters. Less than 10% of household runaway youth had a pregnancy experience. Differences in rates were not statistically significant. The findings are based on self-reports, a purposive street sample, and potentially duplicate reporting among street youth. The high pregnancy rates are attributed, in part, to the prevalence of sexual abuse and other related reasons. 21-60% reported sexual abuse, compared to only 3-12% among the general population. A strong need exists for preventive/prenatal services for runaway and street youth.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Health Services
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Homeless Youth*
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy in Adolescence / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prevalence
  • Runaway Behavior
  • Urban Population