Bloomberg Is Right About Teen Pregnancy, We Are Right To Condemn It


No, Candace, we haven’t forgotten Murphy and her amazing vanishing baby.

Conduct that is harmful to society needs to be rejected and condemned by society, and society has limited options for accomplishing that. It can make destructive and harmful conduct illegal, but some kinds of conduct can’t be illegalized. Uncivil speech, for example, is ugly and causes discord, and the only way to make it less common is to let those who engage in it know that neither they nor their communication habits are appreciated. The Supreme Court has decided that we can’t make lying illegal, but we certainly have the power to make habitual liars feel unpopular.

When society sends mixed messages about destructive conduct, or worse, tell those who engage in it that they are still wonderful people and that their conduct might be just fine for them, it poisons itself. There is a solid, practical reason for Kant’s Rule of Universality, which holds that conduct that would be lead to societal catastrophe if everybody engaged in it is wrong should be discouraged. If everybody doing it would be bad, it’s a good bet that the fewer doing it, the better.

No toxic social conduct illustrates the folly of hesitating to condemn it more vividly than unwed pregnancy, particularly teen pregnancy. While shunning and shaming pregnant teens was undoubtedly cruel, sending the message that unwed motherhood is socially acceptable is arguably crueler. This kinder, gentler response, combined with the warping influence of wealthy celebrities proudly parading their “baby bumps” courtesy of equally rich celebrity boyfriends, has led to an explosion of births without wedlock, especially in the black community. The children of these non-marriages are handicapped from birth, more likely to fall into poverty,substance abuse, illiteracy and crime; the mothers involved less are likely to succeed in careers or life; government programs, funded by taxpayers, are too often required to mitigate the damage.

In light of all this, is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s new initiative to discourage teens from having children before they are married harsh, mean, and unfair, as a hoard of critics are claiming?

No. Of course not. Having a child as an unmarried teen, besides being stupid beyond imagining, is irresponsible, and yes, wrong, as in a bad thing to do, like driving while drunk, gambling away the rent money, or letting the kids you are babysitting play with matches and rabid wolverines. It’s even more irresponsible, and almost as stupid, as the criticism of Bloomberg’s latest by State Senator Liz Krueger (D), who said, “This campaign seems laser-focused on shaming already struggling teen parents or, ludicrously, convincing teens not to get pregnant because really bad things will happen.”


Really bad things do happen to single teen mothers and their children, and to the rest of society because there are so many of them, and their numbers are increasing every day. Fact: society can’t teach children that conduct is irresponsible  and self-destructive—unethical and wrong, in other words—if those who engage in that conduct are praised for their courage, never criticized, and showered with sympathy and support. Nor can society send a coherent message while the rich and famous, who are, unavoidably, role models for the poor and never-to-be famous, are celebrated and glamorized in the media for the exact same conduct that is so ruinous for normal folk. The 16-year old unmarried mother who dooms herself and her child to a lifetime of public assistance is wrong to do so because her life situation will not support her choice. The 28-year-old athletes, television stars and models who get proudly pregnant (or impregnate others) without bothering the get  marriage licenses first are also wrong to do so because they can support the choice, and don’t care that they are validating and promoting conduct that will cause massive, long-lasting societal harm.

Predictably harmful conduct is unethical conduct. It doesn’t mean we should stone those who engage in it, but calling them wrong and irresponsible is imperative. Those who criticize Bloomberg on this issue are following the lead of the misguided, gentle souls who brought black America to the point where over 70% of all children are born to unmarried mothers.

Calling unmarried teen pregnancy wrong is fair, accurate and necessary.


Pointer and Source: Ruth Marcus (Washington Post)

Source: NPR

18 thoughts on “Bloomberg Is Right About Teen Pregnancy, We Are Right To Condemn It

  1. Absolutely correct, Jack, and as you know I have related experience here. And, by the way, I think you meant “rabid wolverines,” although I imagine rapid wolverines would be very scary, especially combined with matches.

  2. Like many other problems, it seems related to thinking the consequences won’t affect them, or parents will fix it (removing their future savings too). Famous people have more options, they can try for one of too many ‘reality’ shows to make ends meet. But temporary freedom comes at a permanent cost.

  3. Jack, I pretty much agree with you on this (and am delighted you worked the Kantian prescription into the dialogue). In the interest of sharpening the problem statement, however, let me throw some interesting data into the pile.

    As of a few years ago, the US percentage of births out of wedlock was 40%. In Sweden, that rate was 55%; in Iceland, 66%. And yet, in those countries, there’s very little economic or health or other difference between those born in or out of marriage.

    Now, those data don’t isolate teen births; and clearly it’s worse being a teen mom here than in Sweden. But it does seem that there’s nothing immutably moral or immoral about the marital status of one having babies. Different societies have come up with different ways of handling the situation.

    I’m not sure what the answer is, but clearly Sweden is doing something better than we are, and it might behoove us to figure out what. We don’t have to condone teen motherhood, and maybe I’m splitting hairs here, but it makes me nervous to call them “wrong.” They wouldn’t be “wrong” had they themselves been born in another country.

    Are they stupid? Yes. Irresponsible? Yes. Sadly misguided? Yes. And we should point out all those things. I’m just a little nervous that in a country where “immoral” is tossed around with enormous abandon, that response is not helpful.

    • I think we can safely say it’s more wrong in the US, and that’s because the US isn’t a cradle to grave welfare state. Those countries are largely homogenous, and not traditionally competitive, risk-taking, violent and highly mobile like the US. That conduct isn’t as destructive in Sweden as it is here doesn’t immediately suggest to me that we need to be more like Sweden, but that this is a bi-product of the ways the US is different from Sweden.

      • Sweden is very economically competitive and entrepreneurial. I wouldn’t say they were not very risk-taking. I don’t think they are very violent anymore, now that the Viking Age is over.

      • Additionally, I wonder how much of the Sweden stat is tempered by cohabitation? Although technically still unwed, cohabiting parents in healthy ‘husband’/’wife’ relationships would technically increase the unwed mother stat while not including the economic and social complications of a *single* mother.

    • Sweden has the size and population of Minnesota. They are not relevant to any conversation about the U.S.

      It’s like saying, “hey, look at how well that rich white family of 5 takes care of everyone in their house. Why can’t our family with 10,000 immigrant foster kids be just like that?”

  4. I’m not sure there is a correlation between births out of wedlock (or celebrity births out of wedlock in particular) and teen pregnancy. In the USA, births to unmarried women has been steeply climbing while teenage pregnancy rates have been dropping.

    Also, it is hard to say whether being raised by a single parent by itself leads to worse outcomes. It might be that the sort of people who have children after marriage are the sort of people who would raise more successful children even if they had them when they were not married.

  5. I agree with Bloomberg (and you, Jack). Kids may have the wrong role models (they certainly can’t use our national leadership, their teachers, or (likely, their parents, and they have to have someone), and clearly aren’t taught anywhere that while you can’t stop teen sex you can stop teen pregnancy. (And I am not pro-abortion; there are of course a myriad of other ways to obviate the pregnancy result of teen sex.)

    Further, where is black leadership on the 70% out-of-wedlock birth stats? Bill Cosby spoke out on this and other issues about the responsibility of the black community to step forward and provide real leadership and mentoring to young black people instead of just playing the “blame game” all the time, and he was booed and hissed by the NAACP audience.

    Finally, Liz Kreuger should buy herself a good dictionary and learn the meaning of the word “ludicrous.” Is it really “ludicrous” to tell teenagers that getting pregnant at an early age and raising that child is a lifelong handicap — for both mother and child (fathers tend to disappear, don’t they?)?

  6. Poor people bearing children as teens is just a recipe for continued poverty crime imprisonment. And their birth rates, hiv and abortion rates are many times higher. Why?

    Poor people have less options for entertainment etc. and less inclined to have convienent birth control. So they have unprotected sex more often. Not a complicated reason. Solution is not in the offing however.

    • There’s also the tiny percentage of victims of rape who are unwilling (on ethical grounds), or more often, prevented, from having abortions.

    • They’re also targeted by the abortion providers as easy marks. Statistics show that when abortion is legalized, birth rates, hiv, and abortions all go up. Same thing when contraceptives are introduced to a society. People don’t engage in risky behavior. But when the odds of risk are shifted – even a little bit – more people will indulge. So instead of looking at a pool of 10% of 100 cases, you’re looking at a pool of 1% of 10,000 cases. And there are always those eager to encourage people to follow the bad math – particularly the condom salesmen and scissormen.

  7. For some teens, pregnancy looks like fun and a good deal (and it is in the short term). They get showered with attention, have baby showers, get gifts, and compliments. Once the baby comes, the state may give them their own apartment to live in, living expenses, food stamps, WIC, daycare, etc. In my state, they also get free college tuition. If you were in the depths of poverty, wouldn’t that doesn’t seem pretty cool (wouldn’t someone in high school with their own apartment, and with a full-ride college ‘scholarship’ seem cool?). After the baby arrives, they are heralded as ‘couragous’ or ‘strong’ athough in many cases, the grandparents or great-grandparents shoulder the actual burden of raising the child. To a short-sighted teenager, what is the downside?

    I think some simple reforms to welfare and child assistance would fix many of the abuses that occur. First, no one under 18 should be all Once someone becomes eligible for welfare and child assistance, their benefit rate is frozen. If they have additional children, no additional benefits will be allowed. People make mistakes, unexpected circumstances occur, however, if you can’t support the children you have, having more is beyond what society should be responsible for. Child protective services should be much more vigorous in removing children from homes where they are not being fed and clothed.

    I am sick of hearing from social workers that we should be donating food, underwear, and socks to the school to give to the students because the parents don’t feed them or provide them with underwear or socks anymore. That is the face of teen pregnancy and out-of-wedlock births that I see.

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