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Teenage pregnancy and out-of-wedlock childbearing were central issues in the debate over welfare reform They are frequently seen as both the cause of increased welfare costs and caseloads over the last 25 years and the result of the welfare system itself Out-of-wedlock births among teenagers have increased dramatically in the last several decades and now account for almost 70 of all teenage births Yet trends in teenage sexual activity and childbearing reflect broader trends in sexual and reproductive behavior among women of all ages and income levels Women age 20 and older for example account for more than three-quarters of the unintended pregnancies and abortions that occur each year in the United States Moreover despite the sharp increase in teenage out-of-wedlock births the increase has been even greater among older women As a result teenagers account for a much smaller proportion of out-of-wedlock births today than they did in the 1970s Contrary to what I previously thought only 5 of mothers on welfare are teenagers and just 1 or about 32000 are under age 18 However a large proportion of women who begin childbearing as teenagers eventually end up on welfare and those who do tend to need assistance for a long period of time Proposals have been based on two basic assumptions that poor unmarried teenagers deliberately get pregnant and have babies in order to collect welfare and set up their own households and that a prohibition on benefits will in and of itself discourage out-of-wedlock births Through the research Ive done I found that the great majority of poor teenagers use contraceptives to prevent pregnancy and that most births to poor adolescents are unintended It also suggests that most women including teenagers would prefer to give birth once they are married This paper examines teenage sexual and reproductive behavior in addition to key behavior differences among adolescents of varying income levels It explores the extent to which teenage mothers
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