Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Troubling Uptick

New York Times editorial "A Troubling Uptick" (January 29th 2010), which describes an increase in teenage pregnancy this year and cites a study by the Guttmacher institute, misleadingly suggests that abstinence programs caused increased pregancy in 2010. Here, the causation is unknown, and the Times should not mistake correlation for causation (as it often does):
But the institute also sees a link between the rise in the teenage pregnancy and abortion rates and the Bush administration’s reliance on abstinence-only sex education programs that bar teaching about contraception. This is not an unreasonable inference.
Likely, the inference is unreasonable. Perhaps funding for abstinence-only programs is given to schools most in need of health-education funding.  Those schools most in need of funds tend to have higher teen pregnancy rates.  For example, Section 510 funding for abstinence education is determined by the relative number of low-income teens in a state to low-income teens in other states (source:  In addition, over the last eight years many variables have moved together.  Discussing only the correlation between two variables over time (such as teenage pregnancy and presidency), and ignoring all other trends would be misguided.


  1. There is intense political and ideological activity bearing on these abstinence programs since the programs act as an expression of traditional values and those opposed to traditional values have no interest in supporting classical American values such as sexual restraint. 17 states have opted out of abstinence education and participation in the abstinence program is down nearly 40%. If states are not participating it is hard to blame the program for the pregnancies. Given that the Obama administration is eliminating these programs entirely and given that the Obama administration "czar" in charge of sexual education was part of an organization that promoted gay sexual activity by underage teens with adult males, it seems unlikely that the administration will be following a policy encouraging abstinence in any way. One wonders if the NYT will be willing to attribute future increases in teen pregnancies and rates of sexually transmitted diseases to administration policies. Somehow I suspect there is no conceivable data set that will emerge that will lead the NYT to that interpretation.

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