As her little boy plays at a day care center across the street, Michelle, an unmarried teenager, is in algebra class, hoping to be the first member of her family to graduate from high school. Will motherhood make this young woman poorer? Will it make the United States poorer as a nation? That's what the voices raised against "babies having babies" would have us think, and what many Americans seem inclined to believe. This powerful book takes us behind the stereotypes, the inflamed rhetoric, and the flip media sound bites to show us the complex reality and troubling truths of teenage mothers in America today.
Would it surprise you to learn that Michelle is more likely to be white than African American? That she is most likely eighteen or nineteen—a legal adult? That teenage mothers are no more common today than in 1900? That two-thirds of them have been impregnated by men older than twenty? Kristin Luker, author of the acclaimed "Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood," puts to rest once and for all some very popular misconceptions about unwed mothers from colonial times to the present. She traces the way popular attitudes came to demonize young mothers and examines the profound social and economic changes that have influenced debate on the issue, especially since the 1970s. In the early twentieth century, reformers focused people's attention on the social ills that led unmarried teenagers to become pregnant; today, society has come almost full circle, pinning social ills on sexually irresponsible teens.
"Dubious Conceptions" introduces us to the young women who are the object of so much opprobrium. In these pages we hear teenage mothers from across the country talk about their lives, their trials, and their attempts to find meaning in motherhood. The book also gives a human face to those who criticize them, and shows us why public anger has settled on one of society's most vulnerable groups. Sensitive to the fears and confusion that fuel this anger, and to the troubled future that teenage mothers and their children face, Luker makes very clear what we as a nation risk by not recognizing teenage pregnancy for what it is: a symptom, not a cause, of poverty.
Kristin Luker is Elizabeth Josselyn Boalt Professor of Law and Professor of Sociology at the University of California at Berkeley.
1. The Problem and Its Human Face 2. Bastardy, Fitness, and the Invention of Adolescence 3. Poverty, Fertility, and the State 4. Constructing an Epidemic 5. Choice and Consequence 6. Why Do They Do It? 7. Teenage Parents and the Future Appendix Notes Selected Bibliography Index
A very important work...Luker makes a compelling case that the familiar portrait [of teen-age mothers] we have been shown so often is the reflection of a public mood rather than a demographic reality...It has always been the case that our national problem is not teen-age childbirth or single-parent families but poverty itself...To continue to insist otherwise after publication of this wise, thoughtful book is to be either obdurately ill informed or ruthlessly ideological in the face of compelling evidence to the contrary. -- Kai Erikson New York Times Book Review This is a book of immense scholarship which is also a compelling and accessible read. Luker examines the current social policy obsession with the "problem" of teenage pregnancy within the U.S...Introducing the stories of many young women who have been...demonized, Luker sensitively and sympathetically explores the realities of their lives. She shows that welfare reform and family policy should take account of the realities of life for women on the margins, and not seek to blame and punish them for society's ills. Race Relations Abstracts [An] insightful, scholarly, and wonderfully readable analysis of Americans' misconceptions about teenage pregnancy and the impact of these beliefs on public policy...[Luker's] fresh perspective on the issue of teenage pregnancy is an important contribution to the current debate over welfare reform. Commonsensical, timely, and very persuasive. Kirkus Reviews Dubious Conceptions is an extremely readable, interesting treatise on the history of adolescent sexuality in the United States and the genesis of the politicization of teenage pregnancy. -- Elizabeth M. Alderman, M.D. Journal of the American Medical Association [A] provocative critique of public thinking on early pregnancy and childbearing...Drawing on historical and social scientific evidence, [Luker] shows how both economic and cultural forces have contributed to the problems associated with early childbearing. -- Barbara Dafoe Whitehead Commonweal In the country I'd like to live in, the publication of Dubious Conceptions would be a transformative event. The book would dissolve prejudices and stimulate informed, positive public policies improving the lives--and lowering the birth rates--of thousands of poor, young, unmarried girls and women. In Dubious Conceptions, Kristin Luker's treatment of the subject of youthful single pregnancy is lucid, orderly, and heartfelt...[It] makes a strong presentation for several reasons, including, first of all, that it addresses and thoroughly undermines the most popular, seductive, and intractable myths associated with teen pregnancy: that "teen mothers" and "welfare mothers" are congruent categories, and that teenage pregnancy causes and perpetuates poverty in the United States. -- Rickie Solinger Contemporary Sociology Kristin Luker's new book offers a clearly written, much-needed survey of the recent academic literature on teenage motherhood, as well as an insightful overview of historical attitudes toward early childbearing and single mothers. -- Kim Phillips In These Times [A] stunning new account of how both liberals and conservatives "constructed" an epidemic of teenage pregnancy. Luker's meticulous research challenges the myth of an epidemic and concludes that it is poverty that causes teenage pregnancy and not the reverse. -- Ruth Rosen Los Angeles Times
Insightful, scholarly, and wonderfully readable analysis of Americans' misconceptions about teenage pregnancy and the impact of these beliefs on public policy. The unwed teenage mother, especially the black unwed teenage mother, has become the symbol of social, sexual, and economic trends that are causing increasing anxiety for Americans. Sociologist Luker (Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood, 1984) asserts that current welfare reforms aimed at reducing teenage pregnancy rates are doomed to fail because they are based on a basic misunderstanding of the problem. In her words, "Early childbearing doesn't make young women poor; rather, poverty makes women bear children at an early age." Luker traces ideas about early childbearing from colonial times to the present and demonstrates how the notion that the country is witnessing an explosion in teenage pregnancy came to have broad acceptance among both policy makers and the general public. Of special interest is her argument that poor women and affluent women are choosing two different solutions to their common problem of raising children in a society that offers little support: Poor women adopt the traditional American pattern of early childbearing, having babies before they enter the work force and relying on family help, whereas affluent women postpone childbearing until they are well established in their careers. Given the circumstances, she says, it makes sense for poor women to have their babies at an early age. The real problem is the underlying social and economic forces that compel women to make such choices. "Society should worry not about some epidemic of 'teenage pregnancy' but about the hopeless, discouraged, and empty lives that early childbearing denotes," she concludes. She offers no ready solutions, but her fresh perspective on the issue of teenage pregnancy is an important contribution to the current debate over welfare reform. Commonsensical, timely, and very persuasive. (Kirkus Reviews)
Harvard University Press
Harvard University Press
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The Politics of Teenage Pregnancy
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