Wednesday, January 07, 2009

In Real Life, Juno Took Place In Mississippi

USA Today has put out data on teen pregnancy that demonstrates that Northeastern teenagers don't get pregnant very much, while Southern and Southwestern teens do.

Of course, let the blathering over sex ed and TV and all that crapola continue. The correlation here is pretty simple. Let's look at the top three and bottom three states. I'll put the state's average income rank in parentheses.

1. Mississippi (51)
2. New Mexico (45)
3. Arkansas (49)

49. Massachusetts (7)
50. Vermont (22)
51. New Hampshire (6)

Vermont's a bit out of place, but otherwise? Looks like poverty is probably our biggest factor. North Dakota and Maine also buck the trend, of course, so poverty may not be everything. Perhaps it's pockets of concentrated poverty we're looking for?

5 comments:

Pierce said...

There are a few things I'd love to see this compared to before I'd draw conclusions:

* Overall birth rates: if a given state has 10% more births per thousand than the national average, they're not necessarily doing anything wrong if their teen pregnancy rate is also 10% above the national average
* Rates of reported sexual activity: do any of these states with high birth rates have low sexual activity? Maybe those states should emphasizing condom use in sex ed more.

Also, go anywhere on the map and click from south to north. With few exceptions (Arkansas, for example) the correlation is more simple even than your poverty line, Jeff. Latitude <-> Teen Births. Seems stupid, obviously, but you could venture some hypotheses linking the two: the effects of UV exposure on human sexuality, for instance, or even something as simple as "the south is warmer, people wear less clothes, get more horny from seeing others scantily-clad."

Matthew B. Novak said...

51st? I'm assuming D.C. is a part of this, right?

Ben said...

Pierce, granting that correlation isn't causation.....do you honestly think latitude is as reasonable an explanation as poverty for higher teen pregnancy rates? (For one thing, the South has higher poverty rates than other areas of the nation, too.)

I can imagine families with greater wealth have greater opportunities for, say, parental supervision and involvement in their children's lives. (The presence of 2 parents - far more likely in wealthier households - makes such involvement a lot easier.) More parental involvement means less opportunities to have sex and more likelihood that kids are raised in such a way that they have either moral or practical reasons to refrain from sex...or at least that they are more likely to be aware of effective methods of birth control.

I'm sure, like all social issues, it's very complex. I'm sure poverty isn't the only explanatory factor here. But it strikes me as willful blindness to ignore the impact of poverty on teen pregnancy rates.

(Maybe that's not what you're doing. If so, my mistake. Then I must ask: what, exactly, is your point? B/c I must be missing it.)

Matthew B. Novak said...

Maybe there's a correlation between latitude and poverty, and then between poverty and teen pregnancy?

Also, there's apparently a link between cold-weather climates and higher happiness/quality of life (certainly not what people would expect), so maybe something as trivial as latitude would be relevant. Why not? ;-)

I don't know about Pierce, but I love messing with causation/correlation arguments. Those statisticians (sp?) think they're so smart...

Pierce said...

Yeah, Matt has it. I don't honestly, conclusively believe that latitude has a causative relationship with birth rates (although stranger things have happened). I'm basically snarking on Jeff's well-intentioned attempt to tweak his hypothesis (poverty <-> birth rate) to fit the data ("pockets of concentrated poverty, maybe?").

I think Jeff's original, untweaked correlation has a lot of merit. But where it fails to predict the real data, I'm more likely to suspect external variables than assume that the one variable it addresses (poverty) isn't specific enough.