Whether a woman is in high school or college, having an unintended pregnancy can have life-altering effects for both her and her child. For teenage mothers, there are many barriers to gaining an education and having economic stability. Completing high school and continuing onto higher education is crucial for attaining a well-paying job. Unfortunately, only 38% of mothers who have their child before they turn 18 receive a high school diploma and an additional 19% get their GED. Thirty percent of teen girls who have dropped out of high school cite pregnancy or parenthood as a reason. In addition to the loss of education, teen mothers are at a much higher risk to live at or below the poverty level. Over 40% of mothers who gave birth as a teenager live at or below the poverty level within one year of giving birth. This percentage increases to 50% by the time the child turns three.

Even if a teenage mother is able to successfully complete her high school degree, she faces additional barriers to earning a college degree. In 2012, 4.8 million college students were supporting children of their own. Pregnant and parenting students often have difficulties finding childcare and support while enrolled in school. For example, although student parents are in clear need of assistance, few states approve college attendance as a work activity, which is a requirement to receive funding from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Eighty-eight percent of single parents attending college live at or below the 200% poverty level with the vast majority of these parents being women. Sixty-one percent on women who have a child after enrolling in community college do not complete their education.

In addition to the burdens mothers face, the children of young mothers are also affected throughout their life-course. They are more likely to be born premature and/or have a low birthweight, leading to an increased risk for additional health problems. Having a child at a young age negatively affects how well the child performs on early childhood development indicators and standardized tests. Children of teen mothers are less likely to complete high school (66%) compared to children born to older mothers (81%). They are also more likely to live in poverty, end up in the child welfare and correctional systems, and become teen parents themselves.

To break the multigenerational cycle of poverty and lack of educational attainment, it is important to understand the barriers young mothers and their children face. Check out our website to see how we are providing free and low-cost family planning services. Our Services and Resources pages offer especially helpful information to mothers in need of assistance.

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 – Erica Freese, MPH student intern