Teenage Pregnancy in the United States 1950-1990: Analysis Using Census Data and Contingency Tables


Barbara E. Johnson
University of South Carolina Aiken

The United States has the highest incidence of teenage pregnancy in the industrialized world. Teenage pregnancy affects opportunities for education and preparation for the workforce especially for young women. Socioeconomic status and cultural backgrounds both impact attitudes toward and likelihood of teen pregnancy.

This social science module examines teenage pregnancy in the United States over time and by socio-demographic variables. Students will learn how to access and interpret Census data as well as begin to think sociologically about teen pregnancy patterns and risk factors.

Learning Goals

Learning goals
Using computer software to access and evaluate quantitative data
Identifying independent and dependent variables
Understanding the logic of relating variables
Formulating hypotheses
Producing and understanding contingency tables
Observing the effect of adding control variables to analyses
Recognizing the differences between reporting percents and frequencies
Identifying trends over time
Understanding trends of teenage pregnancy in the United States
Recognizing how demographic variables relate to having children
Using a sociological imagination to relate teen births to broader cultural contexts

Context for Use

This lab exercise designed for lower level undergraduates can be used in many sociology classes, most notably Introductory sociology, Social problems, Sociology of the Family, Basic Statistics and/or Research Methods. The exercise was created for an hour and fifteen minute lab period. Students must have access to the internet and should have a basic understanding of simple methodological concepts. The exercise can be completed once the chapter on methods in an Introductory textbook has been completed. The time needed for the module can be adapted be eliminating sections. The exercises build on each other, so it is possible to only do 1-3 or divide across several class sessions.

Description and Teaching Materials

Teaching Notes and Tips

I often do exercises of this type in pairs. The students seem less stressed and anxious because a partner may help.


A pretest-posttest (see DataCounts for specific materials) will be administered to determine students' gains from the exercise. Competency through course grades will also indicate the effectiveness of this module.

References and Resources

This activity uses two customized data sets; one made from combining census information from 1950-2000 and one from the 1990 Census. It guides students through data manipulation using WebCHIP software found at DataCounts!. To open WebCHIP with the dataset for the activity, please see instructions and links in the exercise documents under teaching materials. For more information on how to use WebCHIP, see the How To section on DataCounts!.

File Attachment(s)