TEEN BIRTH RATE: Declines Sharply Over Five Years
"In a trend that some credit mostly to abstinence and others to better use of contraception, teenage birth rates nationwide declined substantially from 1991 to 1996," the New York Times reports (Lewin, 5/1). According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the preliminary U.S. birth rate for teenagers in 1996 was 54.7 live births per 1,000 women aged 15-19 years, down 4% from 1995 and 12% from 1991 when the rate was 62.1. These recent declines reverse a 24% rise in the teenage birth rate from 1986 to 1991. Click here for the NCHS press release, through which you may download a pdf version of the full report.
Breaking It Down
According to the NCHS report, there has been success in lowering the birth rate for both younger and older teens, with rates for those 15-17 years of age down 12% between 1991 and 1996 and the rate for these 18 and 19 down 8%. All race and ethnic groups saw a drop, especially blacks, who until recently were the group with the highest level of teen births (National Center for Health Statistics release, 4/30). Overall, birth rates for black teens declined 21% between 1991 and 1996, and are "now at the lowest level ever reported." Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala said, "I give a lot of credit to the African-American community, which has put out a clear, consistent message from the churches, the schools and all sorts of civic organizations" (New York Times, 5/1). Experts also credit the increased use of implantable and injectable contraceptives among black teens for the decline. The study found that almost 25% of sexually active black teenagers used these methods. The Washington Post notes that the birth rate for Hispanics teens is now the highest, but still fell for the first time, by 4.8% (Havemann, 5/1). Births to whites and Asian teens remained the lowest, and also saw small declines.
Around The Nation
The state-by-state data show that teen birth rates have declined in all 50 states and the District of Columbia (NCHS release, 4/30). The New York Times notes that the rates "vary greatly by state, with many Northern states like Vermont, New Hampshire, Minnesota, North Dakota, Maine and Massachusetts having fewer than 35 births per 1,000 teenage women, less than half the rate of Southern and Western states like Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Mississippi, New Mexico and Texas." Washington, D.C. had the highest rate, at 105.5 (5/1). The report states that the variation between states reflects, in part, national patterns by race and ethnicity (NCHS release, 4/30).
The Good And The Bad
The Washington Times reports that Alaska, Maine and Vermont saw the biggest drops since 1991, at 23%, 22.5% and 27.1%, respectively (Wetzstein, 5/1). Michigan's teen birth rate decreased 16.6%, from 59 to 49 per thousand (Kresnak, Detroit Free Press, 5/1). Missouri's rate fell 14% to 55.5 per 1,000 (Bradley, Kansas City Star, 5/1). On the other side of the coin, however, Connecticut, Nevada and Texas saw the smallest decreases since 1991, at 2.4%, 2.5% and 3.9%, respectively (New York Times, 5/1). The AP/Dallas Morning News reports that there is still about one birth for every 13 girls aged 15-19 in Texas (Jennings, 5/1).
How's It Playing?
Secretary Shalala credited the important work of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. She said, "This report shows that our concerted effort to reduce teen pregnancy is succeeding. The federal government, the private sector, parents and caregivers are all helping send the same massage: Don't become a parent until you are truly ready to support a child" (NCHS release, 4/30). Jacqueline Darroch of the Alan Guttmacher Institute said, "Now that the level of sexual activity is not increasing, we're seeing the result of more widespread and more effective contraception use." But conservative groups said the drop is the result of abstinence education. "We believe abstinence has played the central role in what's happening," said Amy Stephens of Focus on the Family. The New York Times notes that "despite the declining rates, the United States still has by far the highest rate of teenage births of any industrialized nation" (5/1). ABC's Peter Jennings said, "Analysts tell us that fewer young people in all groups are having sex and those that do use birth control more often. Still, nearly half-a-million teenagers give birth every year" ("World News Tonight," 4/30).