Date of Completion

Spring 5-4-2015

Thesis Advisor(s)

Richard Sosis

Honors Major



African American Studies | Educational Sociology | Education Economics | Ethnic Studies | Family, Life Course, and Society | Other Anthropology | Social and Cultural Anthropology | Social Statistics


The United States currently holds one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the developed world, but many Americans, including policy makers, view adolescent childbearing as a societal problem that stems from negligence, promiscuity, and poor decision making. This project seeks to frame the institution of school-age motherhood through the lens of Life History Theory, which posits that early reproduction is an adaptation in the face of harsh conditions and high extrinsic mortality rates. This assertion is supported by evidence that adolescent childbearing has been the norm for most of human history, and continues to be practiced in natural fertility populations even today. Special focus is given to urban communities of color in the United States, where early reproduction can hold advantages for both mother and child, especially when their decision is supported by the larger community. Historically, however, policies to curb teenage childbearing have failed to take into account the socioeconomic context of early reproduction. A number of programs seeking to lower adolescent pregnancy rates and their success are discussed with relation to whether or not the programs address factors that make childbearing an adaptive decision for some teens.