We are talking about teen welfare mothers in the family class, using Edin and Kefalas' Promises I Can Keep. The authors quickly dispose of the first two myths about teen pregnancy - that poor teens would not get pregnant so often if they had more sex education or if they had more access to birth control technology. That is not the problem. The teen moms in this study know perfectly well that sex can lead to babies, and they have birth control technology, which they use when they don't want to get pregnant.
The real difference between the teen welfare moms and my middle class students, or the middle class do-gooders (like me) who want to prevent poor teen pregnancy is that the poor teens don't really care if they get pregnant or not, while the middle class people who plan their lives, do. The Promises I Can Keep moms said that half of their children were "neither planned nor unplanned." Having a baby was not something they were trying to do, but it would not derail any life plan they had.
To students on the elite college track, this attitude is dumbfounding. I was trying to think of an analogy that might make this calculation seems more intelligible. This is what came to me.
On any given weekend, a sizable minority of college students will not drink at all, a small minority will get drunk on purpose, and another group will drink and may end up drunk. This last group might be as many as half. On this campus, nearly all of these students will have received extensive education on the effects of alcohol. Some take this information and choose to be abstinent. Some take this information and choose to be moderate drinkers. A few ignore it utterly and aim to get drunk. All students, likewise, have several kinds of "drunkness prevention technology" available to them. Some use it religiously, some ignore it.
I am most interested here in the middle group. They know drinking can lead to drunkenness. They know several ways that drunkenness can be avoided, some of them foolproof. They go to a weekend party and they don't really care if they get drunk or not. Their drunkness was "neither planned nor unplanned." They did not make a plan one way or the other because getting drunk or not would not derail any life plan they had.
For poor teen moms, having a baby is not in itself a bad thing; that is not the way they measure their character. Being a bad mom would be a bad thing, but they don't plan to be bad moms. For college drinkers, getting drunk is not in itself a bad thing; that is not the way they measure their character. Being an alcoholic would be a bad thing, but they don't plan to be alcoholics.