What causes teen pregnancy? (cont.)

03.10.2013, 11:36 AM

We don’t seem to have a concensus for the NYC ad campaign on teen pregnancy, or for the idea that becoming a teen parent is causally linked to the probability of being poor, but here is another idea (maybe the third is the charm!):  Regressive taxation appears to be causally linked to higher rates of teen pregnancy.  Says a study reported in today’s NYTs:

We looked at the relationship between the total tax burden on a poor family of three and state-level figures for mortality, morbidity, teenage childbearing, dropping out of high school, property crime and violent crime … It turns out that after factoring out all other explanations — like racial composition, poverty rates, the amount spent on education or health care, the size of the state’s economy, existing inequality levels, and differences in the cost of living — the relationship between taxing the poor and negative outcomes like premature death persisted.

One good thing about this kind of finding is that, if it holds up, something can be done about:  change the tax code. 

My own experiences, for me, reinforce this finding. I’m from the South, where teen pregnancy is high and regressive taxation is standard operating procedure, and so I’ve seen up close for a long time the results of basing state finances on the sales tax and on other taxes that have the effect of singling out the poor and near-poor for special burdens, and I can say with confidence that these policies are ugly and anti-social.

Overall, I’m not sure the degree to which tax policy affects marriage and family formation outcomes, but surely (and this study adds to the evidence) there must be some effect, at least at the margins.

Relatedly, in his SOTU, President Obama called for ending the marriage penalties for low-income Americans.   It’s a good idea.

3 Responses to “What causes teen pregnancy? (cont.)”

  1. maggie gallagher says:

    “a family of three” –one adult and two kids or two married people with a kid?–the implications are really different depending on which one they studied. Anyone know?

  2. La Lubu says:

    One good thing about this kind of finding is that, if it holds up, something can be done about: change the tax code.

    That is a good idea. But unplanned pregnancy can be greatly reduced by free birth control, so this also seems like a worthwhile strategy to pursue.

  3. JayJay says:

    Here is a link to Melissa Harris Perry’s reaction to the New York ad campaign. It may be found here.