Average Bro points to a program in North Carolina that pays teenage girls a dollar a day to not get pregnant.
The group College-Bound Sisters was founded at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro by Hazel Brown, a maternity nurse who thought too many teens were having babies.
Brown said she hopes the program, which pays $1 each day to 12-to-18-year-old girls, will keep them from getting pregnant. In addition to remaining pregnancy-free, the girls must also attend weekly meetings.
The program is funded by a four-year grant from the state.
“Our three goals are that they avoid pregnancy, graduate from high school and enroll in college,” Brown said.
Under the program, $7 is deposited into an interest-bearing college fund that the girls can collect once they graduate high school.
Some recent graduates earned more than $2,000 and are an inspiration to those still in the program.
“I might want to be a teacher for a few years and then be a lawyer,” said 12-year-old Chelsey Davis. “I might want to be an actor or singer,” another girl in the program, Amanda Davis, added.
AB’s take on it, however, is pretty strange.
Essentially, they are paying young girls cash money to do something they should probably have the personal desire and willpower to do on their own. Much like the (somewhat successful) act of paying kids to do well in school, you wonder what message is really being conveyed here. Are these girls being taught to value their goodies, or simply that $1/day is better than a sweaty five minutes in the of some random boy’s Momma’s basement? I honestly can’t call it, and that’s likely why God blessed me with two sons instead. … this “pay kids for something they should do for free” thing is getting out of hand. We are already paying kids to simply attend school and show up on time. What’s next? Paying kids to not smoke weed? This is getting outta control.
It’s funny that AB take issue with conservatives for their reaction to the program while offering up a pretty boilerplate social conservative critique of the program of his own. (“Whatever happened to personal responsibility?”) He even tosses in some lazy patriarchy for good measure. The comments sections for the original article is filled with the same idea: these little girls don’t need money, they need some self-esteem and to keep their legs closed.
AB’s argument rests on the assumption that going to school or getting good grades or not getting pregnant in high school isn’t incentivized behavior. But if your parents are professionals and you are expected to go to college, you’re going to receive a steady stream of affirmation and structural encouragement to that end (decent schools, pressure to do well, SAT prep courses, etc.) — so much so that the risks/benefit calculations don’t even need to happen on a conscious level. Your parents went to college, all your classmates are going to college, so why wouldn’t you? For a kid in that situation, the costs of getting pregnant — parental disappointment, social isolation, the end of college plans — would be pretty major. “Personal desire,” as AB puts it, isn’t formed in a vacuum.
But while shame can be a damn good motivator, it’s only as effective as its context. If you don’t know many people who’ve graduated high school and you don’t know anyone who has graduated college or you go to a shitty school, that cost/benefit equation is completely different. Getting pregnant or dropping out of school doesn’t really take anything off the table because going to college was never a likely outcome. The kids in both scenarios are making honest appraisals of their situations and their incentives toward certain life outcomes, and making their decisions accordingly.
“Self-esteem” and “personal responsibility” are kind of beside the point. College-Bound Sisters is trying to approximate the same incentive structure and support systems that middle class kids take as a given, which — whether you agree with how they’re handling it or not — is what has to happen if you want those kids on the margins to aspire to and have middle class outcomes.
Anyway, knowing that middle class teenagers are far less likely to get pregnant and far more likely to go on to college, doesn’t taking AB’s position on “personal responsibility” and “self-esteem” mean implicitly buying the idea that lower-class kids are irresponsible lazy asses who hate themselves?
UPDATE: pprscribe and Leigh make excellent points.
It does annoy me, though, how frequently these programs are portrayed as paying girls “to not get laid” or “to keep their legs closed.” The outcome measure being referenced is “not getting pregnant” (among other requirements, like participation in regular meetings). Presumably obtaining an abortion following conception could keep a girl in the program, so really it is a program discouraging *childbearing*. And certainly sex without conception would not be covered by the program. To frame it as a way to control young female sexuality is just silly to me, and reveals a lot about folks who jump to that conclusion.
I’m a big believer in incentives, and I’m a big believer in responding to the particular risks and opportunities that different groups (e.g., teen girls) face. But I find the framing of this initiative troubling, as it seems to me it once again reduces women to our reproductive capacity, rather than incorporating and responding to the risk of teen pregnancy as one particular obstacle for low-income young women among many on the path to college and out of poverty.