G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
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Amanda Hess is out with a very Slate-like post about North Dakota’s low teenage pregnancy rate. Actually, let me be frank: this is the dumbest fucking post I’ve read all year:
A new Guttmacher Institute report has good news on teen pregnancy: As has been the case for the past 20 years, it remains on the decline throughout the United States. But the new numbers (culled from 2008 and 2010 data) also present a puzzle for politicians. Teen pregnancy rates remain highest in New Mexico, Mississippi, Texas, Nevada, Arkansas, and Arizona. They’re lowest in progressive enclaves like New Hampshire, Vermont, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and in one lone red state—North Dakota.
How does North Dakota do it, Hess asks:
So it’s not prophylactics. But it could be petroleum. The explosion of fracking has created thousands of North Dakota jobs and imported single young men by the truckload to fill them. That’s helped the state perform better on two major indicators of teen pregnancy: Rates go down in places with low economic inequality and a high ratio of men to women. You might think there would be higher rates of teen pregnancy with more seed floating around, but research suggests that women are more likely to delay pregnancy when they perceive future opportunities to climb the social and economic ranks—to get an education, a job, and a committed partner who benefits from the same.
Hess suggests an additional factor:
Oil isn’t the only geographical feature driving down teen pregnancy. In 1988, far before the Bakken oil field was tapped, the state’s rate was the lowest in the nation. It could help that North Dakota is very large, and sparsely populated. As in New Hampshire and Vermont, “there are very low numbers of actual teen births occurring in North Dakota,” Lindberg told me.
Massachusetts and Rhode Island – just to name two states – don’t support this theory. Besides being heavily Catholic and being the second and third most densely populated states in the U.S., these two have very low teenage pregnancy rates.
So the headline is a teaser. It’s not fracking though Hess buries the evidence in her piece. To repeat, nothing Hess wrote about a link between fracking and the teenage pregnancy rate is true. North Dakota had the nation’s fourth lowest teenage pregnancy rate in 1990 and the third lowest rate in 1999. And as of 2008, when the Bakken oil boom took full swing, it was back in fourth place.
Hess ends her disjointed post by circling back to this ridiculous explanation:
The state may prove that white, middle-class teens will probably do OK in the absence of comprehensive sex ed and well-funded reproductive health centers, as “they’ll learn from their families, their peers, their doctors, and the internet.” But that doesn’t change the fact that “the pernicious impact of abstinence-only education is its combination with poverty,” Carbone says. “The best contraceptive has always been a promising future, and North Dakota is one of the few places in the United States right now that is booming.”
Except, when North Dakota wasn’t booming it was ranked exactly the same. The only boom here is the tidal wave of North Dakota trend pieces which cause journalists to see correlations the same way a daydreamer sees faces in clouds. And how better to fix this problem – and it is a problem, right, since completion of high school and college attendance is basically a requirement for future success in this country – than to invite a huge population of people for whom teenage pregnancy is not out of the ordinary. And then when that problem manifests itself in our southern states, let’s just pretend that we couldn’t do anything about it and then let’s talk about how we really need to alleviate the poverty of these people we for some reason have to provide for. Genius.