A new study provides more evidence that investments in literacy pay off in ways that aren’t directly concerned with job training or career prep.
Released this week at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting in San Francisco, a University of Pennsylvania study suggests that independent of other factors, preteen girls with below average literacy are more likely to get pregnant as teenagers.
The researchers examined the reading scores of 12,339 girls with an average age of about 12 years, together with the birth records among those girls from 1996 to 2002. Girls who had below-average reading skills were 2.5 times more likely to have a child in their teen years than those with average reading skills.
Healthline reported some interesting comments made by the researchers during their presentation:
“This study underscores the importance of investing early in programs to improve literacy across the board, said Dr. Rosemary Frasso, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania and APHA presenter, in an interview with Healthline. “The potential reduction in teenage childbearing is one of the many positive payoffs here.”
Frasso points out that because African American and Latina girls were found to have lower literacy levels, literacy programs may particularly help prevent unwanted teenage pregnancies in those groups. “Education success and better literacy in young children is protective for preventing teenage childbearing, particularly for Latina and African American girls.” (my emphasis)
Frasso went on to say that increasing collaboration between educators and healthcare providers would be “a good idea.” Specifically, according to the Healthline post, doctors should help preteen patients connect with literacy programs.
This research illustrates the why, from a public policy perspective, it is a mistake to link investments in literacy for youth and adults so rigidly to job skill outcomes. This could lead to a narrowing of the public’s perception of the role that literacy has on other critical social issues, such as health, nutrition, pre-natal care, safety, and community engagement (just to name a few)—and limit opportunities for literacy programs to collaborate on efforts to address them. It’s critically important that public officials, foundations, and other private funders are shown how investments in literacy can positively impact their efforts to address a wide variety of issues.