High school students who have babies appear almost as likely to eventually graduate as those who don't, a population researcher said Friday.

But having a baby after dropping out of school seems to be a major deterrent to eventually getting a diploma, researcher Dawn M. Upchurch of Johns Hopkins University told a meeting of the Population Association of America.She said a study of 12,000 people who were aged 14 to 21 in 1979 found that 72 percent of high school students who had babies went on to graduate, compared to 77 percent of those who did not become pregnant.

The difference between the two graduation rates was not major, she said.

But she noted that among women who dropped out and then had a baby, only 38 percent went back to school and eventually got a diploma. In contrast, more than half of all female dropouts wound up graduating.

Pregnant women who dropped out of school were not a major factor in the study, she added. Most of the dropouts who had babies did so more than nine minths after leaving school.