October 16, 2007

Back Stage out in Front: Impressions of Teen Pregnancy

author_janis By Janis Prince Inniss

The mere mention of teenage pregnancy evokes strong emotions, including sorrow, dismay, disgust, and pity. There is an impression that pregnant teenage girls have “fallen from grace,” as pregnancy is an oh-so-visible indication that they have been sexually active—an idea that makes many people shudder. The fact that the boys and men who partner in these pregnancies are (mostly) absolved of the scorn reserved for pregnant girls is an indication that the double standard about sex and sexuality remains.

We know that many teenagers are sexually active; data from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance (YRBS) indicate that almost half (47%) of all U.S. high school students admit to having had sexual intercourse. Some teens do not use image birth control, as additional data from the YRBS indicate: Of the 33.9% who had been sexually active three months before the survey, more than a third of them (37.2%) had not used a condom and only a scant 17.6% (the respondent or their partner) had used birth control pills to prevent pregnancy before their last sexual encounter. Not surprisingly, a number of these teenage girls became pregnant. 

In 2002, the U.S. teen pregnancy rate was 76.4 pregnancies per 1,000 females aged 15-19. The pie chart below 

clip_image002represents the outcomes of these 757,000 pregnancies. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), indicate that a little more than half of teens aged 15-19 who became pregnant gave birth to their babies. Although 16% of these teens suffered fetal losses, 28% aborted them. 

The sociological concept of impression management is useful in thinking about teen pregnancy. Impression management might be defined as caring what others think; it is being aware of how we are seen by others and attempting to influence (consciously or not) how we are perceived and ultimately treated. According to sociologist Erving Goffman, who developed the concept of impression management, we have front and backstage lives. Front stage refers to those occasions when we are “onstage” in formal roles, in “public” creating or maintaining a particular impression of ourselves. 

Backstage is , like the backstage of a theatre, where we are our “private  selves”; the place where people put on make-up and get dressed in preparation for being onstage. Back stage is where the real story—and not just what we want others to think, know, or feel about us—resides. So using this lens to consider pregnant teens, we recognize that unless it is common knowledge that a teenager has had an abortion or that she was pregnant and gave up a baby for adoption, she may continue to be perceived as a “good girl”, or at least maintain whatever public image she had before she became pregnant.

Notice the double standard again. When it comes to sex, girls and women are seen as either virtuous or promiscuous, but neither label is typically applied to males. This either or dichotomy acts as a constraint on female sexuality. Can you see how? Sexual activity and pregnancy may remain backstage for such image girls and onlookers are likely to maintain whatever impressions they had of them, despite the girls’ experiences with sex and pregnancy. On the other hand, a pregnant girl cannot hide her backstage, because it is literally out in front! Consequently, impressions about her are bound to include this titillating knowledge. 

I was very surprised to learn from CDC data that the highest teenage birth rates in the U.S. of the last 64 years were in the 1950s! As indicated in the line graph below, the 2000 U.S. birth rate of 48.7 is almost exactly half of the 1957 rate of 96.3! What factors do you think contributed to this change in birth rate? Our impression that teen pregnancy is “new” may be related to the fact that the majority (70%) of teenagers who give birth today are unmarried. The opposite was true in the 1950s when teen pregnancies frequently resulted in marriage, and in general, people married and had children at earlier ages than they do today. Many of us have the impression that there was little or no premarital sex, teen pregnancies, or births out of wedlock in the “old days;” but this data suggests that marriage helped to create that perception.


I know adults who became parents as teens, but this information is usually kept back stage. Typically, do you count the age difference between parents and their children, even when parents seem relatively young? I do not and on a few occasions have been surprised to learn that someone—sometimes even family members—I have known for a long time was a teen parent. With time, marriage, and the tacit agreement of the community, many adults are able to have their teen pregnancies “move” back stage

But many people, including teen parents, delay marriage much longer now than during the 1950s. Should they remain unmarried? How do you think today’s teenaged parents will be perceived in ten or more years?


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Back Stage out in Front: Impressions of Teen Pregnancy:


Very insightful post ... thank you for sharing...

The chances of having teen pregnancy are more if one begin dating at early stages of her teenage.

It is estimated that dating at an age 12 has ninety-one percent chances of involving in sexually activities prior to age 19. However, dating at age 13 has only fifty-six percent chance of sexual involvement.

The main cause of teen pregnancy is adolescent sexual behavior. Remember that all teenage pregnancies develop due to sexual activities during adolescent stage, whether intentional or unintentional.

It is found that teen pregnancy is more in high-school-aged virgins who are getting engaged in sexual activities during teenage, thus acquiring sexual transmitted diseases.


Just read about a study that examines the relationship between teen pregnancy and domestic violence:
Although small, the study is provocative as a quarter of the teen girls in the study reported being 'forced' to become pregnant.

This is a great piece of advice. I'm going to pass this article along to other people.

I thought this was a great article and gave a lot of useful information. I was shocked when I heard that teen pregnancies were never any higher then in the 1950's. I think the difference betweeen now and then is that people took the initiative and got married, rather then either doing an abortion or putting it up for adoption. The terminology was great to with the "back stage" and "front stage" refrences. Overall great article and I will pass it on to other people.

Teen pregnancy is becoming more common, such as, the pregnancy of Bristol Palin, 17-year-old daughter of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, this is not something unusual in a modern American family. There are now movies and shows’ being made to show teenage pregnancy is not seen as a discrepancy. This article gave a lot of good and useful information and it is definitely true about impression management and the backstage. There is a double standard between male and female when it comes to pregnancy and it boggles my mind because the woman could not get pregnant with out the man, so why would he not be involved?

I found this article to be very insightful, and the concept of the teen girl’s backstage life being on front stage is intriguing and opening. I couldn’t agree more with the whole idea of the double standard issue, and I also think that the increase in provocative media is something else to address. Girls look up to role models like Paris Hilton, and Lindsay Lohan, and if you observe the attire that these young women wear and their wild life style, you can see how it can become a strong influence.

But less marriage at a younger age in these modern days almost seems to be promoted, or supported, don’t you think? Women are taking stronger roles in society, and becoming much more independent. This is not necessarily a positive change, because it puts more stress on younger women financially and supportively. Women aren’t getting married at younger ages like they used to because everyone today is going off to college and getting a career, so when one becomes pregnant, what are her options?

I think this was a great article and I really enjoyed reading it. It had a lot of useful information that I will use and pass on to other people. I like your concept of "front stage" and "backstage" roles in society. They are both so true and i like how someone finally put a label to them. People can hide anything backstage, but once they are front stage all of their information is gunna be out in the open as you said. I am shocked that they were more teen pregnancies in the 1950s than in 2000. I think it was because so many of the girls were getting married so people did not really notice their age or that is was a bad thing. Today not many are married and some have abortions or give their babies up fpr adoption. There is so much gossip and drama today that when one teen girl is pregnant and someone finds out, the word will spread quickly. It is hard to keep it a secret because everyone wants to be in everyone elses business to keep their owns lives exciting and fun.

This article was insightful. I was a teenage parent and now have two more children with my husband of 10 years. (He adopted my first child.) That part of my life, the sexual part, was "backstage" and became "front" and center when I became pregnant at 17 years old. I do have to say though that I am still ridiculed and looked down upon for my decision that was made over 11 years ago. Even though all is well now, people ask and pry into my life wanting to know how old I am and how old she is and when my husband and I met. It is something that I have lived with for a very long time, and feel it will always be something that I have to deal with. What really gets me going though is when people ask my daughter all those questions and make her feel less than other children. For one, it was not her decision. She was brought into this world because of me. She is perfect and does not need to be ridiculed for others decisions.

Teen pregnancy is a normal part of human experience. If you look at the whole world, including the past, you find that teen pregnancy is the norm. The vast majority are married women 18 or 19 years old, legal adults. The real problem is single motherhood which is linked to child poverty and other poor outcomes for children.

My mother got married at 17 and my brother was born when she was 19. Teen pregnancy is just a normal part of life. Fathers abandoning their families is the real problem.

After contraception was introduced, fathers were not held responsible because pregnancy became the woman's fault instead of the man's fault. Not fair, but true. All contraceptives have failure rates and those rates are all higher for teens who are more fertile. Teens are naturally more fertile because that is the optimal time to begin childbearing. Delaying childbearing has serious risks that increase significantly the older a woman is at the age of the birth of her first child. That is why breast cancer rates have increased so dramatically since women began delaying having their first baby. You can't fool mother nature.

This was an insightful article that ties role theory to mores and taboos in a way I had not considered. There is a marked difference between front stage and backstage roles, and it applies to more than just teen pregnancy. Any behavior that violates mores or is considered taboo is pushed to a backstage role. For example, suicidal ideation takes place backstage, where front stage the typical role is to act as normal as possible.

Very insightful post

Wonderful information here. I will share to others.

Great information here

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Become a Fan

The Society Pages Community Blogs

Interested in Submitting a Guest Post?

If you're a sociology instructor or student and would like us to consider your guest post for everydaysociologyblog.com please .

Norton Sociology Books

The Everyday Sociology Reader

Learn More

The Real World

Learn More

You May Ask Yourself

Learn More

Introduction to Sociology

Learn More

Essentials of Sociology

Learn More

Race in America

Learn More

The Family

Learn More


Learn More

The Art and Science of Social Research

Learn More

« Power and Schmoozing at Work | Main | Romantic Exchanges »