Public Cost: FAQs

How does this analysis build on earlier teen childbearing cost estimates released by the Campaign in 2011?

Counting It Up outlines the public costs of teen childbearing in 2010, the most recent data available. Earlier estimates of the national and state-level cost of teen childbearing released by The National Campaign in 2011 were based primarily on data from 2008, the most recent available at the time. Since then, there have been measurable changes in teen childbearing and in the cost per case within many publically funded programs. In this updated analysis, the national cost of teen childbearing has been adjusted proportionately to account for these changes. Research conducted by Dr. Saul Hoffman of the University of Delaware, building on methodology developed by Dr. Rebecca Maynard of the University of Pennsylvania, (as published in Kids Having Kids, Second Edition, 2008) continued to be the foundation for our assumptions about the link between teen childbearing and participation in publically funded programs as well as reduced earnings.

What types of public sector costs are included in the estimates?

The national and state-level estimates include costs associated with 1) participation in child welfare, criminal justice, and public health among the children born to teen mothers; 2) participation of teen mothers in public assistance; 3) lost tax revenue associated with reduced education and, consequently, earnings and spending among teen mothers, their partners and their children. As with the earlier analysis, this update looks only at the increase in these costs that is associated with having a child before age 20 verses having a child at age 20 or 21. That is, they are net costs and not gross costs. As implied by the public spending categories mentioned above, the costs include those associated with all children in a given year who had been born to a teen mother—this includes very young children as well as those who are currently adolescents or young adults.

Are the actual costs of a birth (i.e. delivery) included?

No. The health care costs captured in this analysis are for the children born to teen mothers, not the costs for the mothers themselves. In addition, since the analysis is focusing on net costs, i.e. above and beyond what would have happened if a mother had delayed childbearing until 20 or 21, delivery costs would be incurred regardless of the age of the mother.

Do the costs you show include programs to prevent teen pregnancy or programs to help teen parents?

No.

Why do you characterize the costs of teen childbearing as conservative?

This analysis incorporates only those costs clearly associated with a teen birth rather than other associated risks. Even so, not all costs can be measured and included. Therefore, it is certain that the full costs of teen childbearing are greater than the cost estimates presented in this analysis.

Has the cost of teen childbearing gone up or gone down?

The last national and state-level estimates of teen childbearing were released in 2011. At the time, the national cost of teen childbearing was estimated to be $10.9 billion. The updated analysis suggests this cost has risen to $9.4 billion. This primarily reflects the fact that the teen birth rate has declined steadily in recent years, which has offset the increase in programmatic costs associated with each participant in publicly funded programs.

Why is there so much difference among states?

There are wide variations among states in the number of teen births, the teen birth rate, and the rate of decline in teen birth rates over time. In addition, there is considerable variation among states in enrollment or participation rates in different public programs (which reflects a combination of state policies and perhaps demographics as well), in the costs of those programs, in how the costs are shared by federal, state, and local taxpayers, and in tax policies.

Why did you do this analysis?

There are many compelling reasons to care about teen pregnancy and childbearing, including the economic costs that taxpayers shoulder as a result of increased use of public programs by the children of teen parents and reduced tax revenue associated with lower earnings by teen mothers, their partners, and their children. The previous estimates of the cost of teen childbearing proved to be very powerful, and have been cited often by policymakers, practitioners, researchers, and the media in the intervening years. At a time when policymakers are intensely focused on cost-saving measures, providing updated estimates showing the savings that result from preventing teen pregnancy couldn't be more timely.

This indicates that taxpayers spend a lot of money on services for children born to teen parents. Are you implying policymakers should cut such services to save money?

No. The major costs reflected in the analysis are for important services such as health care, child welfare, and criminal justice. Once a teenager has a baby, it is vital that the young family get the services and supports they need to thrive. The most important thing policymakers can do is help reduce teen pregnancy further, which will in turn reduce these costs.

Are you suggesting that all teen mothers and children cost taxpayers the same amount?

Absolutely not. The cost estimates presented here are based on the average cost of teen childbearing. Certainly some teen mothers and their children will fare much better than the average and some much worse.

Are you implying that the most important reason to care about teen childbearing is the cost to taxpayers?

There are many reasons to care about teen childbearing, including increased likelihood of poverty, reduced educational achievement for teen mothers and their children, poorer health outcomes for children born to teen mothers, increased interaction with the child welfare and criminal justice system, and the list goes on. In addition to the impacts on individuals and society, some of these consequences result in increased public sector costs borne by federal, state, and local taxpayers. The progress this country has made in reducing teen pregnancy resulted in public sector savings of $12 billion in 2010 alone. Therefore, funding proven efforts to reduce teen pregnancy is important, timely, and should be a high priority.

 
A group of teenage girls