Teen Pregnancy Among Chicanas/Mexican-Americans:
A Resource For Researchers and Scholars

 

Introduction:

    The following page was developed for researchers and scholars studying adolescent pregnancy among Chicanas i.e. Mexican-Americans within the United States. While it is increasingly important to study the spectrum of racial groups categorized as "Hispanic" and/or "Latina", information to date fails to discuss these groups in depth. In fact, severely limited information on women of color and reproductive issues exists. And, of that which does exist, Chicanas are the most frequently studied group of all groups within the ethnic categories Hispanic and Latina. Hence the selection and limitations of this site.

    It should be stated that the information reported here is only representative of a selected collection of literature published on this topic. This site is in no way a means to mastering the subject of Chicana teen pregnancy but a beginning point for understanding its specific cultural complexities. The development of this site was not intended to criminalize teen mothers or lobby for preventative programs and legislation. Rather, discussion will focus on Chicana teens and: Population and Birthrates, Sexual Knowledge and Activity, Utilization of Prenatal and Family Planning Services, (A List of) Teen Pregnancy Risks and Outcomes, and Correlates to Teen Pregnancy. In addition, a section on Recommended Reading is given as well as useful Links. I hope this site will be of service and educational enlightenment to you.
 

Population and Birthrates

    Essentially no matter where you look, reports identify the Hispanic population as an increasingly growing population within the United States. According to statistical reports such as the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention, Division of Vital Statistics' Births of Hispanic Origin, 1989-95, we learn that from 1989 to 1995, the Hispanic population experienced an increase of 25 percent, as the number of infants born to this group went from 532,249 in 1989 to 679,768 in 1995. This increase in births accounted for 18 percent of the total births in the nation (during 1995), while in years prior Hispanics accounted for only 13 percent (Mathews et al., 1998). Due to improvements in living conditions, increased access to health care, as well as high fertility rates, numbers are soaring-- especially among Chicanas.

    Chicanas accounted for "sixty-nine percent of Hispanic origin births in 1995", which has been attributed to high incidences as well as increases in fertility. For example, Chicanas of all ages have the highest rates of fertility in comparison to all Hispanic subgroups. In fact when age of mother is considered, with the exception of women 10-14 years of age, we again find birth rates "are higher for Hispanic women as a group and for Mexican women than either white or black non-Hispanic women" (Mathews et al., 1998). And for teens specifically, Chicana teenagers (between 15 years of age and 19) for the first time exceeded the birth rates of African-American adolescents in 1995. Hence, we can conclude that fertility rates are highest for Hispanics and specifically Chicana women and teens, in comparison to other major ethnic groups and Hispanic subgroups within the U.S.
 

Sexual Knowledge and Activity

    Reproductive knowledge increases with acculturation, social economic status, and educational achievement. The more schooling one has, the more likely they are to know about their body and how to care for it. In addition, the more educated one becomes, the more likely s/he will know about birth control methods and options. Yet, in addition to these findings, factors such as cultural traits also influence the level of knowledge or lack of knowledge one possesses about sex and contraceptives.

    For Chicanas, sexual knowledge is limited. Due to cultural stigmas regarding sex, referred to by researchers as "sexual silence", families and individuals shy away from discussing sex and sexuality with their partners as well as family members. The belief that sex is taboo restricts conversations and information sharing from occurring. Or, when conversations do take place, frequently the messages expressed are vague and or inaccurate. For example, as De Anda et al. report in their article entitled Sexuality, Pregnancy, and Motherhood among Mexican-America nAdolescents, "few mothers of the Mexican-American adolescents provided daughters with specific information about sex... Most of the Mexican-American adolescents received no instruction whatsoever from their parents regarding sexual behavior" (De Anda et al., 406).

    Sexual silence within Chicano communities manifests itself in several ways. In addition to interfering with communication about sex, the silence and stigma attached to it sends messages to teens that sex is shameful. And, in the case of having sex and using birth control, which is viewed by the majority of teens as pre planned sex, it is doubly so. Therefore, it is not surprising to learn what scholars Padilla and Baird point out in their study Mexican-American Adolescent Sexuality and Sexual Knowledge: An Exploratory Study, that for a majority of sexually active Chicano teens, they did not used birth control, though they had knowledge about one or more types of contraceptives (Padilla and Baird, 103).

In short, Chicanas generally know less about their body than non-Hispanic youth. They are plagued with the disastrous disease of sexual silence, which leads to limited knowledge and use of birth control. In addition, low social economic status contributes to lack of access to health care and preventive health care-- including annual examines. Yet, not all findings about Chicana teens and sex are this disheartening.

    Chicana teens contrast greatly to non-Hispanic whites in many areas. Aside from negative realities such as being less knowledgeable about sex, Chicana are also "characterized as having limited sexual experience, a tendency to be involved with only one partner, and infrequent sexual intercourse" (De Anda et al., 405-6). In addition, this group differs from other pregnant teens in that:

The majority of the Mexican-American adolescents became pregnant in the context of a long term relationship that continued after pregnancy for most of them... Most Mexican-American adolescents shared close emotional bonds with the baby's father, who often responded positively to the pregnancy... Cultural differences in relation to family bonds and responsibility for the young appeared to result in a far more stable and supportive relationship with the baby's father... (De Anda et al., 410).
 

Utilization of Prenatal and Family Planning Services

    The number of Chicanas without medical insurance in this country is devastating. The majority of Chicanas do not have insurance or are underinsured. Government programs make up the most common form of insurance Chicanas and Latinas possess, which have budget stipulations as well as various other problems. However, the more educated and financially stable the individual is, and or if she is married, the more likely she will have insurance and use medical care facilities.

    For Chicanas of all ages, usage of prenatal care and family planning services fall well below the numbers of non-Hispanic whites, but show similar patterns to that of African-Americans. "In 1990[,] only 60% of Latino [read: and Chicano] of all ages began their prenatal care in the first three months of pregnancy... 12% had late or no prenatal care at all" (Maisonet Giachello, 141). These rates are especially important to consider for Chicana teens. According to Aida Luz Maisonet Giachello's chapter Maternal/Perinatal Health in Latino Health in the U.S.: A Growing Challenge, Chicana and Latina teen mothers are less likely than women over the age of twenty to receive prenatal care in the beginning of their pregnancy, but are more likely than white and African-American counterparts to seek it in their final trimester or have no care at all (Maisonet Giachello, 146).
 

Teen Pregnancy Risks and Outcomes

    There are a number of resources available that discuss the negative consequences of becoming pregnant in one's teen years. While it is important to note these risks, it is equally important to address how some risks decrease as a result of racially ethnic factors, such as culture. Also, it should be noted that the following risks and outcomes are related to medical areas only.

Teen pregnancy could result in complications during both pregnancy (e.g., preeclampsia) and the delivery. This is often because the girls' bodies are not prepared for safe delivery and labor tends to be prolonged...teen pregnancy is associated with low birthweight, high infant mortality, and an increased incidence of children born seriously ill, disabled, or mentally retarded. Moreover, the maternal death rate for females under age 15 is 2.5 times higher than that for older females. Some factors responsible for these consequences related to poor personal health habits or lifestyle practices during pregnancy, such as smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, and poor nutrition. Other factors include limited financial resources, lack of knowledge about proper health care during pregnancy, and delayed prenatal care or no care at all. (Maisonet Giachello, 146)

    Despite all the risks concerning teen pregnancy, cases of stillborn births, miscarriages, low birthweight infants are considerably low for Chicanas and Latinas. With and without the use of prenatal care, Chicano and Latino babies are being born healthy. Yet, it has been correlated that the more acculturated one is the less likely this is to be true. Hence, it is best for all pregnant women to seek such care, since this cultural difference in birth outcomes is not completely understood or without exceptions.
 

A List of Correlates to Teen Pregnancy

A number of correlates have been determined for teen pregnancy and teen pregnancy among Chicanas. Yet it should be stated that a great difference lies between causes and correlates. Please do not be mistaken by the following, they are a partial list of correlates not causes.

 

Recommended Reading

De Anda, Diane, et al. "Sexuality, Pregnancy, and Motherhood among Mexican-American Adolescents." Hispanic Journal of Adolescent Research. Vol. 3, No. 3-4. University of California Los Angeles, 1988.

Delgado, Jane L. íSalud! A Latina's Guide to Total Health-- Body, Mind, and Spirit. Harper Collins, 1997

Maisonet Giachello, Aida Luz. "Maternal/Perinatal Health." Latino Health in the U.S.: A Growing Challenge. (Eds.) Carlos Molina and Marilyn Aguirre-Molina. American Public Health Association, 1994

Mathews, T. J. et al. "Births of Hispanic Origin, 1989-95" Monthly Vital Statistics Report. Vol. 46, No. 6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/National Center for Health Statistics, 1998.

Padilla, Amaro and Traci L. Baird. "Mexican-American Adolescent Sexuality and Sexual Knowledge: An Exploratory Study." Vol. 13, No. 1. Hispanic Journal of Adolescent Research. Stanford University, 1991.
 

Links

Lexis Nexis Academic Universe (subscribers only; academic information in articles; see: Hispanic See A Population Explosion.)

Commonly Misreported Facts about Teen Pregnancy  (Misreported findings in studies)

Teen Baby Boom (Arizona Daily Star series)  (teen mothers talk)

Teenage Pregnancy: Facts You Should Know  (risks to mother & child)

 


This web page was developed by Lisa M. Lapeyrouse to fulfill a requirement of the class CHI 21: Health Issues in the Chicano/Latino Community taught by Seline Szkupinski Quiroga in the Chicana & Chicano Studies Program at the University of California at Davis, Fall 1998.