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June 28, 2006

Community Spirit May Prevent Teen Pregnancy

David R. Holtgrave

Social capital—the trust, reciprocity and cooperation among members of a community who aim to achieve common goals—may help explain differences in teen pregnancy rates between states. Social capital has also recently been shown to affect child welfare, violent behavior, AIDS, diabetes and even the common cold.

“Generally, the more social capital an area has, the better the public health outcome. As it relates to adolescent teen pregnancy, social capital measurement tends to capture the environment in which teens live, such as how many nonprofit organizations there are in a state and whether adults report heavy involvement in such organizations,” said David R. Holtgrave, PhD, study co-author and chair of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of Health, Behavior and Society.

The study authors compared the levels of social capital, income inequality and poverty to state-level rates of pregnancy for 15-19-year-old girls in 28 states. They used previously developed social capital levels for each of the states, which were determined by surveying residents on fourteen variables, such as involvement in public affairs, volunteerism, informal sociability and social trust. The researchers also examined poverty and income inequality.

Study co-author Richard A. Crosby, PhD., with the University of Kentucky, said, “In order to identify ways to reduce teen pregnancy, it is important to understand the social context in which unprotected sex occurs. Additional research is necessary in order to identify how to create social capital in communities and states with relatively low levels of such social connects.”

“The protective value of social capital against teen pregnancy: a state-level analysis” was written by Richard A. Crosby, PhD, and David R. Holtgrave, PhD. The study was published in the May 2006 issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Public Affairs media contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Kenna Lowe or Tim Parsons at 410-955-6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu.