Teen Pregnancy and Literacy RateSchools across the United States have embarked on literacy campaigns to increase reading levels for elementary, middle and high-school students. While the literacy campaigns may not have any direct correlation with health status, from an educational standpoint, they could be impacting more than test scores. According to a new study from the Perelman School of Medicine, literacy levels in pre-teen years may be associated with pregnancy risk in teen years.

Information for the study was collected from more than 12,000 female students in the public school system of Philadelphia. The average student age was just about 12 years old. Based on test scores gathered from the school system, researchers were able to connect literacy with teen pregnancy risk; specifically:

  • Reduced literacy level increased risk of teen pregnancy by 2.5 times.
  • More than 20% of young girls who rated poorly on literacy tests conceived as teens.
  • About 3% of those teens conceived more than once during teen years.
  • More than 10% of young girls with average scores conceived as teens.
  • Only 5% of young girls with good scores conceived as teens.

Race appeared to be a factor in the study as well. African-American and Hispanic pre-teens tended to score lower on literacy tests and report pregnancies more often.

Why the Connection?
Researchers believe there is some connection between low test scores on literacy tests and feelings of rejection. If young girls feel rejected because they cannot read on the same level as other classmates they may look for attention and acceptance elsewhere. This feeling of rejection could lead to sexually promiscuous activity and teen pregnancy.

How are School Literacy Programs Working to Improve Literacy Skills?

Reading skills are built upon a basic foundation started in kindergarten. If the earliest skills are not mastered, literacy in pre-teen years can be affected. Many school systems have reading programs in place that promote nightly reading and reading time between children and parents to improve literacy. Frequent testing and special reading groups or tutoring are available in most school systems, but catching up with peers can be difficult and time-consuming.

Source: Ian M. Bennett MD PhD, Perelman School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania, Rosemary Frasso, PhD, MSc, CPH, Scarlett L. Bellamy , PhD Stanton Wortham, PhD Kennen S. Gross, PhD. Pre-teen reading ability: A potential predictor of teen pregnancy.