Measuring Teenage Pregnancy Norms and Their Effect on Resource Provision

Download data and study materials from OSF

Principal investigator:

Stefanie Bailey Mollborn

University of Colorado Boulder



Sample size: 812

Field period: 04/28/2005-05/06/2005


This study focuses on perceptions of teenage pregnancy and on one process by which pregnancy norms may affect teenage parents futures. Transition norms such as pregnancy norms are central to life course theory but have not been measured satisfactorily among adults. Importantly, the ways in which they influence life outcomes are poorly understood. This study addresses both shortcomings using an experimental design. By asking respondents to read a short vignette and answer several items, I address two primary research questions. First, do pregnancy norms in the United States vary by the age and sex of the parent-to-be? Second, do pregnancy norms affect how much material help family members are willing to provide to teenage parents? Results show that pregnancy norms are more strongly negative when the prospective parent is a teenager rather than an adult, and respondents who report stronger norms against pregnancy are less willing to provide resources to prospective parents.


Hypothesis 1: Respondents will report more strongly negative pregnancy norms when the prospective parent is an adolescent rather than a young adult.
Hypothesis 2: The strength of the negative pregnancy norm will vary by the gender of the prospective parent, with stronger norms for females.
Hypothesis 3: Family members who report more strongly negative pregnancy norms will provide fewer resources such as money, housing, and child care to the prospective parent as a form of sanctioning.

Experimental Manipulations

The short vignette manipulates the age and gender of the prospective parent:
Condition 1: 16-year-old female
Condition 2: 16-year-old male
Condition 3: 26-year-old female
Condition 4: 26-year-old male


For analysis 1: Unmarried pregnancy norm (respondent's level of embarrassment at the prospect of their unmarried hypothetical daughter getting pregnant/their hypothetical son getting a woman pregnant)
For analysis 2: Resource provision (hypothetically providing the son/daughter with [a] help in general, [b] housing, [c] child care, and [d] financial support)

Summary of Results

Results from multivariate analyses show that Hypothesis 1 is supported: Respondents report significantly stronger negative norms when the prospective parent is a teenager compared to a young adult (p<.01). Hypothesis 2 is not supported: There is no association between the gender of the prospective parent and the strength of the reported pregnancy norm. Supplemental analyses determined that there is also no significant interaction effect between age and gender. Respondents do not, for example, report more strongly negative norms against the pregnancy of an adolescent girl compared to others. A second set of analyses finds support for Hypothesis 3 across all four measures of resource provision (general help, living at home, babysitting, and financial support): As pregnancy norms become more strongly negative, respondents are less willing to provide general help (p<.01), let the prospective parent keep living at home (p<.001), provide child care (p<.001), and give money (p<.01).


Results support and extend life course theory. This study's findings provide support for the theory's idea that teenage parents have violated transition norms about pregnancy--that there are stronger norms against teenage pregnancy than adult pregnancy. The study also finds support for the idea I have proposed that these norms influence the amount of material resources family members are willing to provide. If the amount of resources available to teenage parents influences their outcomes in life, then this would specify one process by which violating transition norms leads to worse life outcomes.

Additional Information

The survey was conducted online with 812 adult respondents, approximately 200 per condition. Respondents are asked about a hypothetical situation in which they are the parent of a young woman or man who is about to become a parent. Their reporting of pregnancy norms and resource provision are based on this hypothetical situation.


Mollborn, Stefanie. 2009. "Norms about Nonmarital Pregnancy and Willingness to Provide Resources to Unwed Parents." Journal of Marriage and Family 71:122-134.