Reading ability in young girls can have significant risk factor for teen pregnancy, according to new research released today at the American Public Health Association’s 140th Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

Girls with a less-than-average reading ability were 2.5 times more likely to have a child in their teen years than those with average reading skill.

The study is the first of its kind to examine the relationship between US pre-teen literacy and subsequent teen child bearing. It is scheduled to be published in the February 2013 issue of Contraception.

University of Pennsylvania researchers looked both at the seventh-grade reading scores of 12,339 girls during the 1996-98 academic years and individual birth records from 1996-2002 — both in Philadelphia. Girls were separated into three reading levels: below average, average and above average.

Among their findings:

  • girls with a less-than-average reading ability were 2.5 times more likely to have a child in their teen years than those with average reading skill;
  • 24 percent of girls with below-average reading ability had at least one birth between 1996-2002, compared to 13 percent for average and 5.4 percent for above-average readers; and
  • birth rates of Hispanic and African American teens were more strongly affected by low literacy levels than those identified as White.

“It is quite possible that adolescent girls who experience a daily sense of rejection in the classroom might feel as though they have little chance of achievement later on in life,” said Rosemary Frasso, PhD, researcher at University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. ”Our findings underscore the role of literacy as its own social risk factor throughout the life-course.”

Visit APHA online to browse scientific research being presented at the Annual Meeting.