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ADOLESCENTS WHO TAKE VIRGINITY PLEDGES HAVE LOWER RATES OF OUT-OF-WEDLOCK BIRTHS about 40% less likely to have a child out of wedlock when compared to similar young women who do not make such a pledge [recently released data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health – Add Health].



These findings are sustained when background factors are held constant.


Originally a survey of junior high/high school students funded by the Dept of Health and Human Services/other federal agencies, it began asking youth in 1994 whether they have taken such a virginity pledge.

These students were tracked through high school and into early adulthood. By 2001, most of the youth in the survey were aged 19-25, old enough to evaluate the relationship between pledging and a number of social outcomes.

Some 1.35 million children are born out of wedlock annually, representing roughly one-third of all births in the USA. Children raised by single parents are 7 times more likely to live in poverty than are children raised in intact homes, and they are much more likely to be dependent on welfare programs and to suffer from a wide range of other social maladies.2 

Some 14% of young women who had taken a virginity pledge had had a child out of wedlock. This compares with 29% among those women who had not taken a pledge.

In other words, the out-of-wedlock childbearing rate among women who had taken a virginity pledge in their youth was 50% lower than that of women who had not taken such a pledge.

In this statistical procedure, girls who took a virginity pledge were compared to non-pledging girls who were otherwise identical with regard to race, income, family structure, religiosity, and other background conditions. This analysis showed that girls who had taken the pledge were still about 40% less likely to have children out of wedlock when compared to otherwise identical girls who had not taken a pledge.

Thus, the virginity pledge itself was found to have a strong independent effect in predicting lower levels of out-of-wedlock childbearing. The effect of taking a virginity pledge on reducing out-of-wedlock births was statistically significant, at the 99.6 percent confidence level.

Abstinence education programs stand in sharp contrast to the "safe sex" or "comprehensive sex education" curricula that often permeate America's public school classrooms. In general, these sex-ed curricula fail to provide a message to delay sexual activity, fail to deal adequately with the long-term emotional and moral aspects of sexuality, and fail to explain that sexual activity should be linked to love, commitment, and intimacy.

True abstinence education programs, on the other hand, are uniquely suited to meeting both the emotional and the physical needs of America's youth.3 

At present, there are 10 studies or evaluations that show the effectiveness of abstinence education programs in reducing teen sexual activity.4 Several additional studies demonstrating the effectiveness of abstinence education are being completed or are under review at academic journals.

The findings in this paper add to the growing evidence showing the potential effectiveness of abstinence education as a means to positively change youths' behavior.

Kirk A. Johnson, Ph.D., is Senior Policy Analyst in the Center for Data Analysis, and Robert Rector is Senior Research Fellow in Domestic Policy, at The Heritage Foundation.



1. This research uses data from Add Health, a program project designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris, and funded by a grant P01-HD31921 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 17 other ag

encies. Special acknowledgment is due Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in the original design. Persons interested in obtaining data files from Add Health should contact Add Health, Carolina Population Center, 123 W. Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27516-2524 ([email protected]).


2. See, for example, Robert Rector, Kirk A. Johnson, Ph.D., and Patrick F. Fagan, "The Effect of Marriage on Child Poverty," Heritage Foundation Center for Data Analysis Report No. CDA02-04, April 15, 2002, at; Robert Rector, Kirk A. Johnson, Ph.D., and Patrick F. Fagan, "Understanding Differences in Black and White Child Poverty Rates,"  Heritage Foundation Center for Data Analysis Report No. CDA01-04, May 24, 2001, at; and Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher, The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially (New York: Doubleday, 2000).


3. Robert E. Rector, Melissa G. Pardue, and Shannan Martin, "What Do Parents Want Taught in Sex Education Programs?" Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1722, January 28, 2004, at


4. Robert Rector, "The Effectiveness of Abstinence Education Programs in Reducing Sexual Activity Among Youth," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1533, 8Apr02, 1995 – 2004 The Heritage Foundation All Rights Reserved.


[Kirk Johnson, Center for Data Analysis Report #04-04, 30Mar04; Abstinence Clearinghouse, 31March04]


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