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On Becoming a Teen Mom

Life before Pregnancy

Mary Patrice Erdmans (Author), Timothy Black (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 344 pages
ISBN: 9780520283428
February 2015
$29.95, £24.00
Other Formats Available:
In 2013, New York City launched a public education campaign with posters of frowning or crying children saying such things as “I’m twice as likely not to graduate high school because you had me as a teen” and “Honestly, Mom, chances are he won’t stay with you.” Campaigns like this support a public narrative that portrays teen mothers as threatening the moral order, bankrupting state coffers, and causing high rates of poverty, incarceration, and school dropout. These efforts demonize teen mothers but tell us nothing about their lives before they became pregnant.

In this myth-shattering book, the authors tell the life stories of 108 brown, white, and black teen mothers, exposing the problems in their lives often overlooked in pregnancy prevention campaigns. Some stories are tragic and painful, marked by sexual abuse, partner violence, and school failure. Others depict "girl next door" characters whose unintended pregnancies lay bare insidious gender disparities. Offering a fresh perspective on the links between teen births and social inequalities, this book demonstrates how the intersecting hierarchies of gender, race, and class shape the biographies of young mothers.
List of Illustrations

Introduction: The Back Story to the Baby
1. The Distraction
2. Young Young Mothers
3. Child Sexual Abuse
4. Violence against Women
5. Education
6. Contraception and Abortion
Conclusion: Getting Beyond the Distraction

Appendix A: Listening to Life Stories
Appendix B: Tables

Mary Patrice Erdmans is Associate Professor of Sociology at Case Western Reserve University. She is the author of The Grasinski Girls: The Choices They Had and the Choices They Made.

Timothy Black is Associate Professor of Sociology at Case Western Reserve University. He is the author of When a Heart Turns Rock Solid: The Lives of Three Puerto Rican Brothers On and Off the Streets.
"Written in accessible language and full of rich interviews and personal narratives . . . A valuable addition to sociology and gender collections."—Y. Besen-Cassino CHOICE
"... first-rate, illuminating... On Becoming a Teen Mom examines the lives of teen mothers prior to pregnancy... [and] analyzes the factors and circumstances that contribute to unmarried young women having babies..."—Ruth Sidel Women's Review of Books
"Informative . . . the book reveals the important role of research in understanding phenomena that people believe they already understand, and how empirically based findings can make a difference."—Adolescent Research Review
“An illuminating, inspiring, often heartbreaking investigation into the lifeworlds of teenage moms. The authors bypass stale moral panic agendas, instead creating space for the young women to speak their own truths, in their own words, while skillfully answering the forgotten question, who are these kids?”—Donna Gaines, author of Teenage Wasteland and A Misfit’s Manifesto

“A revealing exploration of the complex reality and surprising diversity behind the stereotypes of teen motherhood. Mary Patrice Erdmans and Timothy Black combine personal life histories with rigorous argument to show how teen pregnancy in America is the outcome rather than the cause of impoverished neighborhoods, stressed families, and educational inequities.”—Stephanie Coontz, author of The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap

On Becoming a Teen Mom is a welcome counterweight to reductionist and pathologizing accounts of adolescent mothers. This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to get beyond pearl-clutching and move toward supporting pregnant and parenting teenagers.”—Jeanne Flavin, author of Our Bodies, Our Crimes: The Policing of Women’s Reproduction in America

On Becoming a Teen Mom offers one of the deepest investigations into teen pregnancy that I have seen. Until we begin to address issues systemically, the ‘problem’ of teen pregnancy and the real problems young mothers face will not go away. This book is a significant and important contribution toward that effort.”—Wanda S. Pillow, author of Unfit Subjects: Education Policy and the Teen Mother, 1972–2002

“By interpreting common themes in the life histories of the many teen mothers they interviewed, these authors question the assumption that their futures were completely promising before they became young mothers, or that their early motherhood compromised their futures any further. We need to listen to these young women, and policy targets need to be earlier, broader, and deeper than individual sexual, contraceptive, or pregnancy behavior alone.”—Arline T. Geronimus, Fellow, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University

On Becoming a Teen Mom powerfully reminds us that any serious discussion of the causes and consequences of teen motherhood is incomplete if it fails to account for the larger social forces at play in girls’ lives.”—Lorena Garcia, Associate Professor of Sociology and Latin American and Latino Studies, University of Illinois at Chicago

“The writing pulled me in—accessible, serious, straightforward. Once I started reading, I couldn’t put down this compelling and disturbing book on the tragedy that is structural inequality.”—Alisse Waterston, author of My Father’s Wars: Migration, Memory, and the Violence of a Century

“While the statistics about teen pregnancy tell one story, this book tells compelling stories about the multi-challenged lives of teen mothers. Mary Patrice Erdmans and Timothy Black have made a major contribution to the understanding of the intersection of teen pregnancy, family and community violence, and poverty in the United States. The voices of these teen mothers need to be heard.”—John M. Leventhal, MD, Professor of Pediatrics, Yale School of Medicine

Distinguished Book Award, American Sociological Association Section on Race, Gender and Class, American Sociological Association Race, Gender, and Class Section

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