The face of the youth is overwhelmingly Latino. The shifting demographics of America mean that these kids will define the future. But sadly, the conclusions drawn in a new report from Pew illustrate the challenges facing the next generation.
The LA Times summarizes the report by saying "Young Latinos seem to face a tougher future - Those between the ages of 16 and 25 are more likely than other young people to have a child before 19, drop out of school and live in poverty, a study finds."
Hispanics start having children at much younger ages than non-Hispanics. More than one-fourth (26%) of Hispanic females are mothers by the time they reach age 19, compared with 22% of blacks, 11% of whites and 6% of Asians. Among Hispanics, teen parenthood is most widespread in the immigrant generation. Some 26% of foreign-born females ages 18 and 19 have children, compared with 16% of the same age cohort of second-generation Hispanic females and 21% of third- generation Hispanic females.
Not only do Latinos have children at younger ages than non-Latinos, they also marry at younger ages. Some 15% of Latinos ages 16 to 25 are married, compared with 9% of non-Latinos in that age group. The higher marriage rate for Latinos is driven primarily by immigrant youths, 22% of whom are married. Marriage rates among native-born Latinos-10% for the second generation and 11% for the third generation-don't differ markedly from the rate for non-Latinos.
Despite their relatively high rate of teen parenthood, most Latino youths do not look favorably upon having children prior to age 20. Three-fourths (75%) say that the prevalence of teens having babies is not good for society, an opinion shared by 90% of the overall youth population in the U.S.
Nearly seven-in-ten Latino youths (69%) say that teen parenthood hinders the ability to achieve one's life goals. However, Latino youths are more inclined than other youths to favor parenthood at a relatively young age. Latinos say that the ideal age for a woman to have a child is 24, and for a man it is 25. Among all youths, these figures are 26 for a woman and 28 for a man.
Among young Latinos, there is only a small difference in the likelihood of having had sexual intercourse prior to age 20 by nativity. Nor does the likelihood of having engaged in teen sex differ between Latino youths and their older counterparts. However, Latino youths are far more likely than older Latinos to report that they engaged in sex prior to the age of 16.
When it comes to attitudes about teen sex (as distinct from behaviors), once again there are no significant differences by generation among young Latinos, but there are differences between younger and older Latinos. Latino youths are more tolerant of teen sex within a serious relationship or of teen sex that involves using protection; Latinos older than 25 are markedly less accepting of teen sexual activity no matter what the context.
So what is causing this gap? One of the things that always frustrates me reading through reports about the issues facing teenagers, minorities, women, or any combination of those is the lack of specifics as well as the divorcing of certain issues from larger societal influences. Pew goes beyond most other projects by looking at attitudes about teen sex, and having a child early. But if most of these youths understand how difficult it is to have a child and still work toward their own personal goals, and many understand the need to use protection, what is causing the disconnect?
Are there correlations between the geographic area and pregnancy rates? Are many of these girls growing up in areas where they cannot access contraception? Are they being subjected to abstinence only education? Does religion play a role in this? What are they telling these boys? Are these even boys, or is there a disparity between the age of the mother and the age of the father? Is it peer pressure? Is there not enough mentoring and outreach? What is it?
And more complicated is the rhythm of these types of problems:
The picture becomes even more murky when comparisons are made among youths who are first generation (immigrants themselves), second generation (U.S.-born children of immigrants) and third and higher generation (U.S.-born grandchildren or more far-removed descendants of immigrants).
For example, teen parenthood rates and high school drop-out rates are much lower among the second generation than the first, but they appear higher among the third generation than the second. The same is true for poverty rates.
It is good to identify problems - it's the first step toward finding a solution. However, I hope that this issue receives more attention.
These children (and teens) are literally our future.