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Variables related to romanticism and self-esteem in pregnant teenagers.

Adolescence is considered a time of identity versus role confusion (Erikson, 1968). According to Grotevant and Cooper (1986), adolescence is characterized by the process of individuation and separation. It is a time of identity development (Marcia, 1966, 1980) and egocentrism (Elkind, 1967), a time to experience the feeling of "personal fable," "imaginary audience," and "foundling fantasy" (Elkind, 1978).

Erikson (1959) believes that adolescents should be allowed to indulge in a certain degree of experimentation in their educational and social environments. He refers to this period of experimentation as a "psychological moratorium," a time when adolescents can try out different roles, identities, personalities, and ways of behaving. Experimenting with roles is an important prelude to establishing a coherent sense of identity. Without a period of moratorium, the teenagers' identity development will be delayed. On the other hand, some adolescents' identity exploration leads to negative consequences and behaviors, such as sexual promiscuity, use of drugs and alcohol, conduct disorders, delinquency, depression, suicide, and teenage pregnancy.

In the United States, each year one in ten (or over 1 million) teenage girls become pregnant--the highest rate of any industrialized nation in the world (Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1990; Davis, 1989; Jones, Forrest, Goldman, Henshaw, Lincoln, Westoff, & Wulf, 1986; Wright & Barnes, 1989). Teenage pregnancy has become a major social and economic problem; in 1986 it cost the United States $16.6 billion (Adams & Gullotta, 1989).

The outcomes of early parenthood are long-lasting, affecting both teenage mothers and their children. Besides the health risks of early pregnancy and childbearing, adolescent mothers are also confronted with economic, psychological, social, and educational challenges.

Adolescent pregnancy often leads to truncated educational attainment and, subsequently, to lower earning power (Furstenberg, 1976; Marini, 1984; Mott & Maxwell, 1981). The younger the adolescent at the time of the pregnancy, the greater the negative effects (Mott & Marsiglio, 1985).

Teenage mothers are also at high risk of experiencing repeat pregnancies and for living a life of poverty (Hayes, 1987). There is research evidence which suggests that infants born to adolescent mothers suffer from cognitive deficits and educational delays (Baldwin & Cain, 1980; Brooks-Gunn & Furstenberg, 1986; Osofsky & Osofsky, 1970).

Several researchers have investigated the reasons for the increasing number of adolescent pregnancies. Various explanations have been offered, but no single cause has been found, nor is there consensus among experts as to why teenage pregnancy has become a national epidemic. Some (Robbins, Kaplan, & Martin, 1985; Russ-Eft, Sprenger, & Beever, 1979) speculate that the home environment tends to be very stressful for the pregnant adolescent. Others (Babikian & Goldman, 1971; Boyce & Benoit, 1975; La Barre, 1968) point out that a large majority of pregnant adolescents come from single-parent families.

Some researchers (Babikian & Goldman, 1971; La Barre, 1968) argue that the mother/daughter relationship prior to pregnancy is often strained. Still other experts have establishd a relationship between low self-esteem and adolescent pregnancy (Abrums, 1980; Abernathy, 1974; Elkes & Crocitto, 1987; Patten, 1981; Robbins, Kaplan, & Martin, 1985; Thompson, 1984; Zongker, 1977, 1980).

The terms self-esteem and self-concept have been used interchangeably by some researchers. Others point out that the use of such terms as self, self-image, self-identity, self-esteem, self-worth, and self-concept lacks consistency, and definitional consensus is difficult to achieve (Jensen, 1985). For the purpose of this paper, self-esteem was defined as the emotional evaluation teenagers make about themselves, which is generally in the form of approval or disapproval. It indicates the extent to which persons believe themselves to be capable, significant, successful, and worthy (Coopersmith, 1967). According to Rosenberg (1965), individuals exhibiting high self-esteem respect themselves and consider themselves worthy. Low self-esteem, on the other hand, implies rejection, self-dissatisfaction, and self-contempt.

Romanticism and romantic love are frequently discussed concepts in both academic and nonacademic settings (Spanier, 1972). In spite of this, there is little empirical research on love and romanticism (Scott, 1983). Romanticism has been defined as "a general disposition an individual has toward love, marriage, the family and with relationships involving male-female interaction in which the affective component is regarded as primary and all other considerations are excluded from conscious reflection" (Spanier, 1972, pp. 481-482).

Burgess (1927) was one of the first researchers to study romanticism in a family setting. He concluded that romanticism was dysfunctional because it had a negative influence on family life. Others (Beigel, 1951; Burchinal, 1964; Kolb, 1950) believe that romanticism is functional in American society because it is important in helping adolescents form their identity, release tension, and deal with frustrations.

Compared to those who are less romantic, romantic persons are more illogical and irrational (Lester, Doscher, Estrict, & Less, 1984), and have more unrealistic and simplistic expectations about love, marriage, and sex (Dietch, 1978; Knox & Sporakowski, 1968; Larson, 1988; Lester et al., 1984). Romantic individuals also report a greater perceived readiness for marriage and feel more competent as future spouses (Larson, 1988).

Using the Dean Romanticism Scale, Spanier (1972) examined the relationship between romanticism and marital adjustment in a sample of 218 couples. No significant relationship was found, although there was a slight positive correlation between the two variables. It was concluded that, in general, romanticism was not dysfunctional because it did not appear to be harmful to the marital relationship.

Romanticizing and fantasizing about love, marriage, and parenthood are natural phenomena during adolescence. Hatcher (1973) reported that many never-married mothers between the ages of 15 and 17 years romanticize about intimate relationships.

Romanticism and teenage love as they relate to marital aspirations and expectations have received minimal research attention (Scott, 1983; Spanier, 1972), and even when touched upon, have not been studied in the area of teenage pregnancy. Self-esteem, on the other hand, has been investigated extensively among adolescents and, more specifically, in samples of pregnant teenagers (Blinn, 1987; Elkes & Crocitto, 1987; Griffin, 1989; Newman & Newman, 1986; Patten, 1981; Stuart & Wells, 1982; Thompson, 1984; Zongker, 1977). There has been no research on the correlation between romanticism and self-esteem.

The present study investigated whether select variables were related to feelings of romanticism and self-esteem in a sample of pregnant teenagers. The specific objectives were: (1) to investigate the degree of romanticism and self-esteem in a sample of pregnant teenagers; (2) to explore the relationship between romanticism and the following ten variables: age, race, place of residence during pregnancy, age when first sexual intercourse occurred, age when pregnancy occurred, incidence of sexual abuse, incidence of abortion, adoption considerations, whether the subject was currently sexually active, and whether the pregnant teenager planned to have a child with the father of the baby; (3) to explore the relationship between self-esteem and these ten variables; and (4) to examine the relationship between self-esteem and romanticism.



This study was limited to pregnant teenagers who were single, never married, under the age of 19 years, and were either enrolled in a pregnant-minor program affiliated with a continuation high school or were residing in a maternity home in a large metropolitan area of Southern California (N = 121). The age range of the subjects was 12-19 years, with the majority being 16-19 years. Twenty-eight subjects (23%) were white, 32 (26%) were Hispanic, 53 (44%) were black, and 8 (7%) selected the "other" category. During their pregnancy, 62 (51%) lived with their parent(s) while 59 (49%) resided in a maternity home.

Eighty-three subjects (69%) stated that they first had sexual intercourse between the ages of 10 and 15 years, while 37 (31%) reported having sexual intercourse for the first time between ages 16 and 19. Fifty-three respondents (45%) specified that their first child was born when they were between the ages of 10 and 15 years, while 66 (55%) had their first child when they were 16-19. When asked if they were currently sexually active, 45 (37%) answered affirmatively and 73 (60%) responded negatively (3 subjects did not respond to the question).


Romanticism was measured using the Dean Romanticism Scale (DRS) (Dean, 1961). Respondents answered each item on a Likert scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). The individual scores for each of the 32 items were summed to obtain a total romanticism score (range = 32-160). Higher scores signified a greater degree of romanticism.

Dean (1961) has reported good split-half reliability (r = .90) and good content validity for the DRS. Larson (1988) has also used this instrument in a sample of college students to assess romanticism in relation to their perceived readiness for marriage.

Self-esteem was measured using the ten-item Bachman Self-esteem Scale (BSS), which is similar to that used by Rosenberg (1965). The first six items were adapted directly from his scale; the remaining four items were developed by Cobb, Brooks, Kasl, and Connelly (1966). This was done to shorten the instrument while maintaining adequate reliability and validity. Respondents were asked to indicate how often each item applied to themselves. The five response categories--almost always, often, sometimes, seldom, and never--were assigned scores from 1 to 5, with higher values reflecting higher self-esteem. The scale has six positive and four negative items. The self-esteem index includes a mean of the ten items (up to two missing values allowed), and has a range of 10-50 (Bachman, O'Malley, & Johnston, 1978).

The BSS was reported as having good test-retest reliability (r = .88) and content and construct validity. Otto (1973), Gladbach (1976), and Bauermeister (1978) have used this scale to assess self-esteem in different samples of adolescents.


Questionnaires were distributed to 150 pregnant teenagers who were either enrolled in a pregnant-minor program at a continuation high school or living in a maternity home. A community outreach counselor and a social worker who worked directly with the pregnant teenagers asked them to independently complete the questionnaire. Complete anonymity was assured.

The questionnaire was pilot tested on a smaller sample (n = 30) before data collection commenced. After pilot testing, the researchers clarified some of the questions to ensure that the teenagers understood them.

From a total of 150 questionnaires distributed, 29 (19%) were discarded because they were either incomplete or the subjects did not fit the criteria for sample selection. The sample used for statistical analyses, therefore, consisted of 121 pregnant teenagers.


Data were analyzed using t tests, one-way and two-way analysis of variance, and the Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient. The .05 level was applied in testing the level of significance. The t values and mean scores for romanticism and self-esteem as they relate to the specific variables are presented in Table 1.


The mean romanticism score for the pregnant teenagers was 93.95 (SD = 10.95). Their mean self-esteem score was 4.08 (SD = .64).

Two variables were significantly related to feelings of romanticism: adoption considerations, t(119) = 2.36, p |is less than~ .05, and whether the adolescent planned to have a child with the baby's father, t(118) = 2.39, p |is less than~ .05. The incidence of sexual abuse, t(117) = 2.71, p |is less than~ .05, and the incidence of abortion, t(119) = 1.92, p |is less than~ .05, were significantly related to self-esteem.

Subjects' age, race, place of residence during pregnancy, age when intercourse first occurred, age when pregnancy occurred, and current sexual activity were not significantly related to either feelings of romanticism or self-esteem. There was a significant, though weak, negative correlation (r = -.23, p |is less than~ .05) between self-esteem and romanticism.


Larson (1988) used the Dean Romanticism scale with 173 college students (56 males and 117 females; mean age 20.1 years) and reported a mean romanticism score of 85.77. Thus, the pregnant teenagers in the present study (mean = 93.95) seemed to have a higher degree of romanticism when compared to Larson's college students.

Bauermeister (1978) administered the Bachman Self-esteem Scale to a sample of 31 low-income single adolescent mothers residing in a midwestern state and found a mean self-esteem score of 4.03. Otto (1973) also used the same instrument with a sample of 670 rural high school students and reported a mean self-esteem score of 3.65. Likewise, Gladbach (1976) surveyed 42 adolescents with physical impairments and found a self-esteem score of 3.80. Thus, Bauermeister's (1978) low-income single adolescent mothers and the pregnant teenagers in the present study (mean = 4.08) had very similar mean self-esteem scores, while the other groups had lower levels of self-esteem.

Subjects' age, place of residence during pregnancy, age when sexual intercourse first occurred, age when pregnancy occurred, and whether the adolescent was currently sexually active did not significantly relate to feelings of romanticism or self-esteem. One-way analysis of variance indicated that race--whether the subjects were white, black, or Hispanic--also was not significantly related to the teenagers' romanticism or self-esteem.

The two variables which significantly influenced feelings of romanticism were adoption considerations and whether the teenager planned to have a child with the baby's father. Thirty-one percent (n = 38) of the respondents had considered adoption. These subjects had a significantly lower mean romanticism score (91.52) when compared to the 69% (n = 83) who stated that they had not considered giving up the child (95.87).

Teenagers who considered adoption may be less romantic and more realistic, more goal oriented, and more likely to consider what is most advantageous for both themselves and the child. Adoption may become a viable choice with the realization that they may not be able to give the child the best of care or pursue the goals they have set for themselves.

Those who stated that they had not considered adoption were significantly more romantic. These teenagers may be glorifying what the future has in store for them after the birth of the child. They may have perceived pregnancy as a ticket to "living happily ever after." These teenagers may believe that, by having a child, their boyfriend would be forced to give them more attention, more love, and a greater and more lasting commitment. They may also feel that a child will give them greater prestige.

The second variable which was significantly related to feelings of romanticism was whether the teenager had planned to have a child with the baby's father. Fifty-four (45%) subjects answered affirmatively, and this group had a significantly higher romanticism score (96.69) than did the 66 subjects (55%) who responded negatively (92.56).

The subjects who responded that they had planned to have a child with the baby's father may believe that giving birth would be a way to guarantee a continued relationship with the boyfriend. These teenagers may be romanticizing and fantasizing about the quality of life with the boyfriend after the baby is born. They also may be drawing a parallel between their life and family life as depicted on television, such as in The Cosby Show. Briefly, the teenagers who planned to become pregnant may be fantasizing about and romanticizing love, marriage, family, and parenting, which accounted for their high romanticism scores.

Whether the adolescent had been sexually abused significantly influenced the subject's self-esteem. The 31 subjects (26%) who stated that they had been sexually abused had a significantly lower mean self-esteem score (3.83) as compared to the 88 subjects (73%) who stated they had not been sexually abused (4.17). One explanation for the lower self-esteem scores of the sexually abused teenagers may be that they have more difficulty with choices involving trust, control, commitment, and sexual involvement. They may be experiencing feelings of extreme guilt because they have not dealt with the issues surrounding sexual abuse and have carried the emotional burden over many years. Many of these teenagers may not have received counseling and thus have not been able to put any closure to the abuse, hence the guilt and low self-esteem. Lystad (1982) summarized the later consequences for victims of child molestation, noting that low self-esteem and the inability to maintain satisfying long-term heterosexual relationships were foremost on the list.

Another variable which was significantly related to self-esteem was whether the pregnant teenagers had had an abortion. Twenty-eight respondents (23%) specified that they had had a prior abortion, and they manifested a significantly higher mean self-esteem score (4.27) than did the 93 subjects (77%) who indicated that they had not had an abortion (3.98).

One reason for this difference in self-esteem scores could be that those who had an abortion may be better at goal setting, more future oriented, and may have the ability to plan ahead. This group of teenagers may have an internal locus of control, which enables them to feel that they are more in control of their lives and their environment. Briefly, when people feel good about who they are and are in control of their own fate, they are more likely to exhibit behaviors that will enable them to cope better and to deal positively with potentially threatening situations (Phares, 1976).

Segal and DuCette (1973), in their study of internal locus of control in a sample of high school teenagers, also found that internally oriented teenagers knew more about birth control and abortion options. The findings of the present study are consistent with those of Phares (1976), Spain (1978), McKinney, Sprecher, and DeLamater (1984), and Coleman (1986).

The last objective of the study was to examine the relationship between romanticism and self-esteem. A correlation of -.23 was found for the two variables. Thus, it appears that subjects who had higher self-esteem tended to have a lower degree of romanticism, and vice versa. Even though significant, this relationship was not strong.


Of the ten independent variables investigated in this study, adoption considerations and whether the adolescent had planned to have a child with the baby's father were the only two significantly related to romanticism. Likewise, two other independent variables, incidence of sexual abuse and incidence of abortion, were related to self-esteem.

Further investigation is needed to identify other key variables associated with self-esteem and romanticism as they relate to pregnancy during early, middle, and late adolescence. Perhaps variables other than those used in this study (e.g., childhood experiences, family background, quality of relationship between parents, emotional stability, number and quality of interpersonal relationships) are also related to self-esteem and romanticism in pregnant teenagers. It would be important to identify such variables so that professionals working with teenagers can implement effective family life education programs before they become pregnant. These should include discussions on the realities of love, marriage, and parenthood in order to help teenagers modify idealistic tendencies and adopt more realistic expectations. Finally, a longitudinal study investigating whether there is an increase or decrease in teenagers' feelings of romanticism and self-esteem after the birth of the child is also needed.


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Author:Medora, Milufer P.; Goldstein, Avery; von der Hellen, Cheryl
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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