Stairway to Wisdom

Let’s say you wanted to understand a social problem in depth. Let’s say you wanted to move from a dry, statistical understanding of a problem to a rich, humane one. How would you do it? What steps would you take on your climb toward understanding?

Well, obviously, first you’d start with the data. Let’s say, for example, you were studying teenage pregnancy. You’d want to understand the basic facts and trends. You’d discover from a recent Brookings Institution report that annual teenage childbearing rates have declined by an astonishing 52 percent since 1991.

Next you’d want to get some grasp of the general causes for this phenomenon. At this stage, you would consult the academic research.

This research casts doubt on some possible explanations for the amazing decline. Teenage pregnancy rates are not falling because abortion is on the rise. As far as we can tell, abortion rates are falling, too. Better sexual education must have had some role, but that doesn’t explain the trend either. Teen pregnancy is declining just as much in states like Texas without comprehensive sex ed as it is in states like New Jersey with it.

On the other hand, improved contraception is working. Pregnancy rates fall as people move away from condoms toward IUDs. Sexual attitudes are changing, too. Teenagers are having their first sexual experiences later than they used to and they are less sexually active than previous generations. <Read more.>

Via David Brooks, The New York Times.

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