Today’s big demographic news is cause for celebration – the CDC announced that teen birth rates in the United States are at an all-time low – down 60 percent in 23 years.
Back in 1991, teen births reached a peak of 61.8 per 1,000 teen girls. That’s the equivalent of 1 in 16 teenage girls having babies, often resulting in lower educational and employment opportunities and continuing a cycle of poverty. The current statistics show teen births dropping to 24.2 births per 1,000 teen girls in 2014 (1 in 41). Although still higher than in most industrialized countries, the rate has been dropping steadily in recent years. The steepest drops were among black and Hispanic teens, whose birthrates have decreased nearly 50 percent since 2006.
Experts attribute the drop in teen birth rates to several societal changes over the past two decades including better access to contraception and more reliable long-acting contraceptives such as injectable and implantable methods. Some studies also indicate a trend toward less sexual activity, especially among younger teens. Others theorize that the availability of information online has also contributed to the trend, as well as the popularity of programs like MTV’s “16 and Pregnant” that show the hardships of kids raising kids.
While teen birth rates are down nationwide there are still great disparities among regions of the U.S., as shown in this report by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancies. Most of the states with lowest rates are in the Northeast (with Massachusetts at the lowest with a rate of 10.6) and most of the states with the highest rates are in the South and Appalachia (Arkansas is at the high end at 39.5).
Continuing to expand teen access to reproductive health care and medically-accurate sex education will be critical in lowering these rates still further. Postponing parenthood until adulthood is better for children, teens and our communities.