Of all the reasons to continuously try to improve our schools, one of the most important is interrupting the cycle of poverty. Just imagine a world in which schools have a greater impact on achievement than families. That may be far off (though not impossible), but the work educators currently do every day has the potential to change lives—even generations of lives.

A new brief from Child Trends shows a small but absolutely critical impact of increasing math and reading achievement: fewer births to unwed teens. Unfortunately, there was no such effect for high-risk young women. But for low-risk teens, a one-standard-deviation increase in reading comprehension scores reduced the probability of unwed childbearing by 3.5%, and a similar increase in math scores reduced it by 3.3%.


Shutterstock Image
Teen mother courtesy of Shutterstock.

That reduction may not be very big, but the impact it has on the teen, her current family, and future generations of her family is enormous. Delaying childbearing until adulthood is one of the keys to breaking out of poverty—for the mother and her children.

These results are also heartening because the reduction in teen births is essentially a bonus. Increasing reading and math scores is a worthy goal in itself. Knowing that those increases have benefits that last more than one lifetime is extraordinary.

One comment on “Interrupting the Cycle of Poverty”

  1. 1
    Deirdre Mundy on August 9, 2015

    Reading the study, it appears to be about test scores, not INCREASING test scores. So… kids with higher academic achievement have lower teen pregnancy rates.

    But couldn’t this merely be correlation? Kids who have more self-control and more of a future-focus might do better in school AND avoid pregnancy.

    Kids who are more academic are probably taking harder classes, spending more time on homework, in more extracurriculars and less likely to have the TIME or INCLINATION to get pregnant.

    So… for low risk kids, more academically inclined kids are even lower risk than the norm, but it doesn’t hold for high risk kids? So… how do you see a path forward to a place where school, rather than family background, determines ‘risk level?’

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