What’s Behind The Drop in U.S. Teen Birth Rates

  • Share
  • Read Later
Getty Images

Teen birth rates in the U.S., which have been declining for two decades, have reached a record low, with significant drops in almost every state.

The report, from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that teen birth rates fell at least 15% in all states with the exception of West Virginia and North Dakota during the years 2007 to 2011. Rates in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada and Utah fell by 30% or more.

The CDC based their findings on birth certificates collected during the study period. Overall, the rate of births to teen mothers dropped by 25% from 41.5 per 1,000 teens between the ages of 15 to 19 in 2007 to a record low of 31.1 births per 1,000 teens in 2011.

The greatest drops were recorded among Hispanic teens — 34% from 2007 to 2011. Teens from other groups saw steep declines too, with non-Hispanic black teenagers showing a at 24% decline in teen births and non-Hispanic white teenagers a 20% drop.

(MORE: Fighting Teen Pregnancy: Portrait of a Radical High School Program, 1971)

The report, compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics, did not address the reasons behind the decline, but experts say it’s a mix of greater access to birth control and better sex education.

“The short answer is that it is a combination of less sex and more contraception. Teenagers have a greater number of methods of contraceptives to choose from,” says Bill Albert, the chief program officer of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. “The menu of contraceptive methods has never been longer.”

It’s a validation for public health programs that have advocated safe sex messages and sex education in schools; critics of that strategy raised concerns that such efforts would only promote more sexual activity among adolescents and drive up teen pregnancy rates. Studies do show, however, that more contraceptive options work only if teens understand how to use them appropriately. So quality sex education may partly be responsible for driving down teen birth rates. “When we look at the menu of proven programs, programs that have been shown to actually move the needle, that number has grown over the last years, and to the credit of the federal government, they have invested in it,” says Albert.

The HHS currently recommends 31 evidence-based programs and curricula that are proven to work to prevent teen pregnancy. To establish their effectiveness, the HHS reviewed more than 1,000 studies that analyzed outcomes such as preventing teen pregnancies or births, reducing sexually transmitted infections, or reducing rates of risky behaviors such as having unprotected sex and multiple sex partners.

Programs that focused on reducing not only risky sexual behaviors, but addressing other behaviors such as violence and substance abuse tended to be the most successful. Those that included parents and community interventions were also more effective. “We know from teens themselves that teenagers are much more likely to delay sex and much more likely to use contraception if they feel supported by their parents and have close relationships with their parents. When we ask teenagers directly: who influences your decisions about sex? Surprise. Year after year after year they say parents,” says Albert. And even efforts to educate adolescents about healthy living behaviors that involved nutritional education and physical activity were useful in improving teens’ overall awareness of their health and sexual health.

Some teen pregnancy prevention programs, like the Denver Health and Hospital Authority’s Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program (TOP), have embraced social media to promote their message. TOP supplements their nine-month youth development invention and community service program with text messages that corresponded to lessons taught that week in the program.

(MORE: Why New York’s Latest Campaign To Lower Teen Pregnancy Could Backfire)

Other cultural trends may also be contributing to the trend. More people are getting married later and putting off starting a family, and it’s possible that teens are mirroring what they see in their own families or their friends’ families. The report also gathered data from the middle of the downturn in the U.S. economy, and recessions typically lead to some slow down in birth rates. “I do understand that most teens are not checking their 401Ks, but it is reasonable to say that teens are very keen at observing the world around them. I think that it can have a somewhat sobering effecting on teenagers,” says Albert.

If that’s the case, then another cultural phenomena — putting teenage mothers on reality TV shows like “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” — may also be exerting it’s own form of birth control. In a survey commissioned by the The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) and Durham, N.C., research firm iRT separated 162 teens from Boys and Girls Clubs in North Carolina into a group that watched three episodes of “16 and Pregnant” and a group that did not. They also polled 1,008 teens about whether they watched the shows. Both of the teens from the viewing study and the polled teens reported that watching the show made pregnancy more real to them, and 82% of the teens who watched said the shows gave them a better understanding of the challenges of being pregnant and of parenting, and how to avoid it.

(MORE: 16 and Pregnant: Tuned-In Teens Are Turned Off by Teen Pregnancy)

Despite this gains in reducing teen pregnancy and birth rates, however, some argue that sex education still has a way to go in the U.S., and some methods have been criticized as ineffective, or counter-productive. For example, a recent New York City subway poster campaign that featured pictures of crying toddlers with the message, ““Honestly Mom…chances are he won’t stay with you. What happens to me?” was ridiculed for shaming teens into acting responsibly, a tactic that hasn’t always proven effective.

Not every public health campaign may hit home with teens, but at least the data suggest that most of them, and as well as the sex education programs that are becoming a part of school curricula, seem to having an impact.

For advice on how to talk to kids about making responsible choices about sex, see the CDC’s recommendations here.

31 comments
getrealplease
getrealplease

So....for those smarter than I am....how did the statistics for teen "births" get autoconverted to teen "pregnancy"?  We get a statistic that births are down.  Lower than since the '40s.  This sounds encouraging, right?  The article said that it was teen births, ...this is based on new birth certificates.  So my question is, do they issue a birth certificate for an aborted pregnancy?  I don't think so.  So are teen abortions up?  Could we add the numbers of teen abortions with number of teen births and come up with another number?  Seems so to me. 

Mjustwondering
Mjustwondering

I have been reading a lot about this topic and I think the drop of teenage pregnancies come from our teenagers now are experimenting in same sex relationships.

leadamcarter
leadamcarter

Excellent, those Gardasil shots are really working!

Teen pregnancy is a terrible burden on society, and using biotech to fix the problem is brilliant!

AndresArcesioTorresCano
AndresArcesioTorresCano

This is wonderful news, after all this time to put pressure on these people religion education and few opportunities, which saw no future for this traumatic experience of being parents for lack of support from all the rooms of the society, either by education and a state understood that religion should be separated from the ordinary law.

http://cytoteccolombia.co/

djs1138
djs1138

What was the number of abortions performed on teens during the same period?  Is it possible that there's no less pregnancy, but a lot more abortions being performed? 

JeanLudvigsenBinder
JeanLudvigsenBinder

There is nothing shaming about signs that say, "Honestly Mom, chances are he won't stay with you....what happens to me?"  It is purely a realistic recognition of the plight of the child in a wishy washy, sort-of-there, but-not-really "family."  Adults AND children deserve better than that.  Time to bring back long engagements and planned parenthood.

swagger
swagger

i know it's been a monumental struggle against right wing extremist christians and their fake belief in forgiveness and mercy.  public health organizations have hammered us on smoking at taxpayer expense for 50 years and you know what it has worked.

bojimbo26
bojimbo26

All percentages but no actual numbers .

Disco_House
Disco_House

Maybe the drop in teen pregnancies has something to do with the removal of so many paedophiles from Celebrity culture: now there are fewer paedophiles presenting mass media, the sexualisation of children has become less prevalent. 

MarcHandler1
MarcHandler1

These statistics are extremely sloppy. A 19 year old woman marries and starts a planned family with her husband and you call that "teen pregnancy."  A 16 year old has sex with her boyfriend, gets pregnant, and is abandoned to raise her child alone, and you call that a "teen pregnancy." How are these things similar? Why is it bad for a 19 year old woman to start a family? The notion that every time a woman under the age of 20 gets pregnant, that's bad, but if she's over the golden line of 20, then it's okay, is downright bizarre. The problem isn't how old a woman is when she starts a family, the problem is unwanted pregnancies, and women who are abandoned and left to raise children without partners. Shouldn't the experts be measuring that, instead of lumping them all into a category called "teen pregnancy."  

By measuring this problem based on birth certificate dates, you are including people who are not part of the problem, and excluding people who are part of the problem. As a result, the numbers in these statistics are badly flawed, so all of the astute conclusions drawn are actually vague guesses.

GoodandGodless
GoodandGodless

@djs1138

The abortion rate among teens ages 15 to 19 declined by 56 percent between 1990 and 2008. Among both older and younger teens, abortion rates have been declining since the late 1980s.

Channah
Channah

@swagger Yep----these right wing Christians still want no sex education in the schools except ''don't do it!!''.  I know my mother honestly believed that nice girls did not ''do that'' or even talk ''about that''.  Those who did were going straight to hell-no ifs, ands, or buts.

We never had ''that talk'', as it was a nasty subject.

candqrock
candqrock

"from 41.5 per 1,000 teens between the ages of 15 to 19 in 2007 to a record low of 31.1 births per 1,000 teens in 2011."
Rates...those are the numbers

SarahConfran
SarahConfran

@Disco_House I think you have a misunderstanding of the word pedophile both in its meaning and its spelling.

Disco_House
Disco_House

@MarcHandler1  If they are not old enough to buy Alcohol in Texas, are they really old enough to become parents?

RememberSA
RememberSA

@MarcHandler1Do you know what percentage of pregnant teens are married and planned their pregnancies? Moreover, what percentage of them are financially and emotionally prepared to raise a child? I am not an expert in the area, but my guess is that the percentage is very small--hence the reason that a lower teen pregnancy rate is celebrated. But let's say you are right, and researchers should be focusing on teens with unwanted pregnancies who have been abandoned; how do you recommend finding and collecting data on teens in this position?

boohoo
boohoo

@Channah @swagger That's not true about all right wing Christians. I'm Christian, schools should teach Sexuality, and 100% based on truth. True: only abstinence is the 100% way to not get pregnant or an STI, or a multitude of other repercussions of sex that are emotionally damaging way beyond teenage years. But all teens have a choice to make, give them all the CORRECT information. Not political driven agendas that say abstinence isn't possible so lets just teach safe sex. Can we teach truth?! Yes there are ways to protect yourself if you decide you are going to have sex. Those have consequences too. I have 3 close friends who have been on birth control since their teenagers years. They are now all 30+ and have had 1 to miscarriages.  

jhngalt9
jhngalt9

@Channah @swagger One of the sharpest drops in teen pregnancy occurred in Utah. I will leave you to ponder the meaning of that in context with your nonsensical rant.

boohoo
boohoo

@swagger @actiontvonline This type of apathy towards teens having sex is part of the problem. You keep saying they can't do so you might as well not even try, that's getting our communities in big trouble. That's like saying self discipline isn't a worthwhile endeavor. They CAN choose abstinence. It is the smarter choice. But it is THIER choice to make. As a community we are either going to tell them, "you are going to fail so don't even try", or "there's every piece evidence to say that the risk outweighs the temporary reward".

Not to mention that we are teaching them "everyone else is doing it so you should too.".

Disco_House
Disco_House

@SarahConfran @Disco_House  Unless you want paedophiles behaving in a sexually suggestive manner around children on children's TV with sexually suggestive pop music promoted in childrens programs and made fashionable: such that children and teens think it normal to behave sexually at their age... 

MarcHandler1
MarcHandler1

@RememberSA @MarcHandler1

I appreciate your thoughtful response. Respectfully: Your point seems to be that it's difficult to collect accurate data, so let's just base public policy on sloppy guesses. ...  I can go half way around the world to Thailand, and put my bank card in an ATM machine, and the bank knows exactly how much money I have and how much they can give me. They're pretty good at keeping accurate numbers. But when a government agency like the CDC (health), or the USCIS (immigration), or VA (veterans), tries to process numbers, it's too difficult.  So the VA can't process veterans' claims (currently 600,000 claims backlogged); the USCIS can't figure out who stayed in America after their visa expired (currently over 5 million people);  and the CDC conveniently misidentifies the problem as teen pregnancy then collects flawed data by looking at birth certificates. I wonder why your response is to excuse this, rather than calling on the Gvt to do a better job. --- Do you really think it's impossible for researchers to distinguish happily married women from abandoned mothers, and come up with a more accurate picture of the problem?   

Re your other point: "what percentage of them are financially and emotionally prepared to raise a child?" It is not the business of the government nor scientists to determine this. It's a free country. If a woman chooses to get married and have a family she has that right, and should not be stigmatized or considered part of a social problem because of it ; it's way out of bounds to assume that she is not emotionally prepared to do so. There are 40 year olds who are terrible mothers, and 17 year olds who are great mothers. Assuming that every young woman who chooses to have a family is part of a national problem is off base.


nomad1123
nomad1123

@MarcHandler1 @JeanLudvigsenBinder all of you should be worried about media garbage. how do you not expect kids to think about sex 24/7 with music and shows that glorify adultery. Everyone wants contraceptive and abortions rather than to fix the problem at its root. A liberals definition of societies evolution apparently is pushing the moral boundaries a little further each year until you can behave as you please with no immediate consequences and regard as to the psychological effects on our youth.


MarcHandler1
MarcHandler1

@JeanLudvigsenBinder  Why in the world would you say I'm questioning the need to study this? I'm saying the opposite. I'm saying we need to study it better.  I'm not questioning the proper ability to do it. I' m saying we do have the ability to do it. The government is just doing a typically crappy job. If you're really worried about all those abandoned and neglected children you mention, then you should call on the government to do a better job of effectively assessing this problem and giving us reliable information. 

The government is currently telling us their programs are successful. Maybe they are, but that is not clear from the data. It's like law enforcement telling us they're winning the war on drugs because heroin addiction has gone down --- without mentioning that crack addiction has gone up.   People studying and reporting on "teen pregnancy" need to do it in a way that paints an accurate picture of the problem.


JeanLudvigsenBinder
JeanLudvigsenBinder

So you question the need to study this and the proper ability to do it.  Hundreds of thousands of abandoned and especially neglected children seem to suggested one ought to try.