Supporting previous research, it has been confirmed that independent of other influences, low literacy rates in pre-teen girls significantly predict child-bearing among teenagers in the US, according to a new study presented at the American Public Health Association’s 140th Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

This is the first research of its kind to analyze the possible link with literacy among US pre-teens and teen child-bearing. The team of researchers, from the University of Pennsylvania, found a connection between 12,339 girls’ seventh-grade reading scores enrolled in Philadelphia Public Schools, to subsequent birth records between 1996-2002.

Findings of their analysis showed that girls with less-than-average reading levels were two and a half times more likely to give birth in their earlier teens, compared with those that had average reading levels.

Twenty-one percent of girls with below-average reading levels had one live birth during the six-year examination period, while three percent of girls with below-average reading levels had two or more live births within that period.

On the other hand, only 12 percent of girls with average reading skills had one live birth and one percent had two or more live births. Of the girls with above average reading skills, five percent had one live birth and 0.4 percent had two or more live births.

This study also measured racial inconsistencies in literacy as a factor to teenage pregnancy. A higher percentage of African American and Hispanic girls had below-average reading skill group.

Also, the results of low literacy on risk of giving birth as teenagers was greater in Hispanic and African American girls than those who identified themselves as white. The authors suggest that poor reading skills in early grades are much harder to change, and foretell later decisions to quit formal education.

Rosemary Frasso, PhD, researcher at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, says:

“It is quite possible that adolescent girls who experience a daily sense of rejection in the classroom might feel as though they have little chance of achievement later on in life. Our findings underscore the role of literacy as its own social risk factor throughout the life-course.”

The investigators conclude that health care professionals involved with pre-teen girls should evaluate literacy when giving contraceptive and other reproductive health services to this population. Previous studies have recommended prevention programs, such as sexual health education, contraceptive use, and the distribution of free condoms in schools.

This study will appear in the February 2013 addition of Contraception.

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald