Social Approval and Teenage Childbearing
Mullin, Charles H.
We examine the phenomenon of "pockets of teenage illegitimacy" in a model of social approval, where attitudes to such illegitimacy are endogenously determined at a local community level. Both a woman's actual well-being and her community's perception of that well-being in each potential state - staying in school and early childbearing - impact her decisions. In particular, since individuals can better appreciate the successes and failures of those making similar choices as themselves, the accuracy of a community's perception of a woman's well-being increases in the fraction of her community who chose her state. With positive correlation in potential well-being across the two states, these imprecise community perceptions can lead to multiple steady states: Pockets of high/low illegitimacy emerge even though individuals do not, per se, derive utility from conformity. These pockets could be triggered off by public policy measures (such as AFDC), but also by exogenous "shocks" such as the urban middle class flight from the inner city - as suggested by Wilson (1987). A novel prediction of the model is that the lower the variability in potential well-being in the childbearing state, the more easily a community can become trapped in the high-illegitimacy steady state. So, programs such as EITC, which increase the variability in well-being among single mothers, may be more effective in reducing teenage illegitimacy, than traditional approaches, such as AFDC, which reduce this variability. Finally, these high-illegitimacy pockets may be more responsive to non-pecuniary measures such as integrated housing projects and mentors, which increase the diversity of a teenager's circle of social interaction, than individual financial incentives.