How Does Poverty Affect a Teen's Lifestyle?

By Jennifer Brozak
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According to The Children's Defense Fund, more than 20 percent of U.S. teens live in poverty. That means that more than 16 million children under the age of 18 live in families that earn below their state's poverty threshold. While some teens are able to overcome the detriments of being raised in poverty, others will face uphill battles when it comes to schooling, employment, and avoiding risky behaviors.


A report issued by The Prevention Researcher shows that children who are raised in poverty tend to have lower academic achievement and higher dropout rates, and these numbers are directly affected by the length of time a child has spent in poverty. According to The Urban Institute, children who are born into poor families are three times as likely to drop out of high school. This association appears to exist for two primary reasons: first, because poorer families typically do not have the disposable income to spend on games, puzzles, books and other educational materials that can stimulate a child's intellectual development, and second, because parents who live in poverty generally have lower levels of education themselves, and, consequently, do not place as much emphasis on schooling as highly educated parents do.


Poverty can also affect a teenager's employment opportunities. Since children who live in poverty are more likely to have lower grades and higher drop out rates, they are less likely to find economic independence as they move into early adulthood. As such, they are less likely to attend college or post-secondary schools and therefore, are more likely to be unemployed or under-employed as adults. For example, The Urban Institute reports that more than a third of children who are poor will spend at half of their early adult years living in poverty.

Teen Pregnancy

Girls who live in poverty are also more likely to become teen moms. According to The Urban Institute, a teen girl who grows up poor is 30 percent more likely to have a baby before she turns 18. Moreover, The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy states that teen moms are more likely to have another baby within 24 months of the first one, continuing the cycle of poverty for both mother and children.

Risk Behaviors

Unlike middle class or affluent children, poor children are more likely to live in economically depressed areas with more crime and higher unemployment rates; they are also more likely to have fewer positive role models and more exposure to risk-taking behaviors, such as juvenile delinquency and drugs and alcohol abuse -- from their peers and sometimes, even, from their parents or guardians. As a result, states the National Center for Children in Poverty, teenagers who grow up in economically depressed areas may have more access to and influence from drugs and alcohol. Still, even when a teenager is living in poverty, parental love and support, coupled with school involvement, tend to offer protection from negative influences.

About the Author

As a mother, wife and recovering English teacher, Jennifer Brozak is passionate about all things parenting and education. A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and St. Vincent College, Jennifer writes features for the IN Community magazine network and shares her daily escapades on her blog, One Committed Mama.