TEENAGE BIRTHRATES: Hispanic Teens Now Lead The Nation
"The percentage of Hispanic teenagers who give birth has surpassed that of African-American teenagers for the first time, with both groups more than twice as likely as whites to become mothers before they turn 20," according to a new report released by the National Center for Health Statistics. The report found that Hispanic and non-Hispanic black teenagers are more than twice as likely to become pregnant before age 20. The Washington Post reports that in 1995, "nearly 11% of Hispanic teenagers gave birth, compared with about 10% of black teenagers and 4% of non-hispanic white teenagers." While the birth rates for both white and black teenagers have decreased recently, birth rates for Hispanic teenagers have increased, "driven by a 32% increase among Mexican Americans since 1989." Teenage birthrates among Mexican-American teenagers increased from 9% in 1989 to 12% in 1995. According to the Post, the report shows that Hispanics "increasingly are suffering from the problems that historically have plagued African Americans." For example, in 1995 for the first time the poverty rate among Hispanics was higher than among blacks. In addition, Hispanics had "higher out-of-wedlock birthrates than African-Americans and have the lowest rates of high school and college graduation."
Hispanics born in the United States are more likely than immigrants "to give birth as teenagers, to have babies outside of marriage and to have babies with low birth weights." Harry Pachon, president of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, said, "That's the negative aspect of acculturation. The same problems that plague native-born Americans start plaguing second-generation immigrants." According to some counselors, factors leading to teenage pregnancy are similar for Hispanic, black and white teenagers. Those factors include: "lack of information, desire for love, and embarrassment about using birth control." However, other factors are more directly related to Hispanic birth rates. Those include religious taboos that prevent teenagers from receiving abortions. "Once a Latino girl gets pregnant, I would say 98% do not see abortion as an option," said Elida Vargas, director of the adolescent program at Washington-based St. Mary's Center. According to Vargas, many Hispanic girls also "do not realize how easily they can become pregnant, especially those who speak little English." Some believe "they are too young to conceive, and others don't realize that sex leads to pregnancy." In addition, many Hispanic girls have little adult supervision in the evenings and at night. An additional factor is that Hispanic girls "view motherhood ... as an acceptable part of life rather than something that should be postponed for the sake of education and career" (Vobejda/Constable, 2/13).
The report also found there has been a dramatic increase in timely prenatal care for Hispanic women, up 19% from 1989 to 1995. However, prenatal care for Hispanic women continues to lag behind that of non-Hispanic white women. Just over 70% of Hispanic women begin care in their first-trimester, a rate similar to that of black women, but 87% of non-Hispanic white women receive prenatal care in the first trimester. In addition, rates for low birthweights among Hispanic women remain favorable, but varies among subgroups, from 5.8% for Mexicans to 9.4% for Puerto Ricans. The rate for Caesarean sections also varies markedly between Hispanic subgroups (NCHS release, 2/13)