In the opening years of the 20th century, G. Stanley Hall gave a broad definition of modern adolescence using both the psychological and physical parameters. In his two volume work, ‘Adolescence: Its Psychology and Its Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, Religion, and Education,’ Hall summed it up that teen years was a period that saw individuals experience inevitable physiological and psychological turmoil.
He observed that, though it was normal for the teenagers to think about sex, they are still not mature enough in both physical and psychological terms to engage in sexual intercourse or become parents (Hall, 1922). This has been echoed by child reformers in many aspects. There have been new child labor legislations, laws that require compulsory education to children, institutionalization of juvenile courts, spirited efforts to control teen sexuality, and many other age-specific policy issues. All these were meant to reflect on the new social attitudes that defined contemporary adolescence.
There have however been a growing number of teenagers who have put up a spited resistance to the new restrictions aimed at their autonomy (Hall, 1922). At the onset of the 20th century, a paltry 1% of the boys and 11% of the girls could marry between the ages of fourteen and nineteen. As we progressed into the 20th century, the age of first marriage and subsequent parenthood continued to fall for both sexes. In the mid 20th century, the median age of first marriage was recorded as 22. 8 years for males and 20. 3 years for females.
The Great Depression of the 1930s had momentarily slowed the trend but the years after the Second World War recorded a dramatic rise in the incidences of early marriage and teenage pregnancy. As from the three decades that started in 1940s all the way to 1960s, the 20th century recorded the highest rates of teenage pregnancy. The rates the three decades were given as 79. 5, 91. 0, and 69. 7 per 1000 respectively. In 1960s, almost a third of America’s females had their first pregnancy before they reached twenty years of age (Lindenmeyer, 2002).
In the decades that followed the trend was reversed until the 1990s. During this time, there were high rates of divorce being recorded, more college graduates as great emphasis was placed on education, and also due to enhanced reliability on birth control measures; the youth chose to delay marriage or not to marry. In this period there was a drop in the average age for menarche which could begin at twelve while some girls would experience menarche at eight years. Most Americans were ignorant of the rising age of marriage as the main focus was on the changes in the incidences of unwed motherhood.
In 1990s, almost 25% of all babies were born by unmarried women of which one third were attributed to teenage mothers. In spite of all this, the realization that African American and Hispanic teenagers were most likely to have children out of wedlock than their white counterparts gained precedence (Lindenmeyer, 2002). After the 1970s, teenage pregnancy and parenthood was intertwined in complex social, economic and political shifts that were being experienced within the American society.
There was a new wave of immigration that had been prompted by the Immigration Act of 1965 which saw an increase in the diversity of the American society. There were changes in the racial policies and practices which were achieved by the civil rights movements of the 1960s henceforth becoming part of the federal laws. The legal debates regarding accessibility to abortion were focused on the teenagers. The economic shifts that were characterized by movement from an industrial society to a service and information-based economy came with new social issues.
According to critics, the unmarried teenage mothers emerged to symbolize American immorality and the growth in the Aid to Families with Dependant Children (AFDC) welfare program. As Hall had speculated earlier on in the 20th century, teenage pregnancy and parenthood were not to be accepted and presented a modern social problem to the society (Lindenmeyer, 2002). It is therefore evident that teenage pregnancy is an issue that has characterized the American society from the historical past and that this trend is far from over.
This study shall however focus on the teenage pregnancy in the high schools found in the XYZ State of the United State. The findings shall then be inferred to give an explanation of the scenario being experienced in the United States as a whole. The sample population shall be drawn from both the urban and rural settings of the State and has to bear the varying characteristics in economical, social, cultural, racial, political and religious terms.