U.S. BIRTHS: STUDY SHOWS DECLINE IN UNWED, TEEN BIRTHS
The birth rate for unmarried women fell for the first timeThis is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.
in almost 20 years, according to a Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention (CDC) study "of the nation's health that also
found improvements in infant mortality, prenatal care and life
expectancy." WASHINGTON POST reports that the four percent
decline in "the out-of-wedlock birth rate last year represents a
marked shift in a figure that has proved stubbornly resistant to
improvement and that has come to exemplify the wider breakdown of
the traditional family structure" (Havemann, 10/5). WASHINGTON
TIMES reports that while the reasons for the decline in the birth
rate are unknown, credit has been tentatively given "to
everything from improved expertise with contraceptives to the
stern anti-illegitimacy messages of the welfare reform debate"
OTHER FINDINGS: The study also found that the nation's
infant mortality rate reached an all-time low. In 1994, eight
out of every 1,000 babies died within their first year of life.
In 1995, the number declined to 7.5 deaths per 1,000 births. The
study also found that life expectancy increased to 75.8 years,
the same rate as 1992. And the percentage of women receiving
prenatal care increased from 80.2% to 81.2% (POST, 10/5). The C-
section rate declined for the sixth consecutive year in a row to
20.8% of all live births. In addition, for the first time the
HIV/AIDS percentage death rate did not increase from the previous
year. Despite this plateau, the gross number of AIDS deaths
increased from 42,114 in 1994 to approximately 42,500 in 1995
(CDC release, 10/4).
THE BIRTH RATE NUMBERS: The study found that the birth rate
for unmarried women dropped four percent to 44.9 births per
1,000, "the first decline since 1976." The birth rate for
teenagers between 15 and 19 fell three percent to 56.9 live
births per 1,000, marking the fourth year in a row that the
teenage pregnancy rate has declined. The largest decrease in
teenage birth rates was among black teens, who had 95.5 births
per 1,000, a nine percent decline (Zaldivar, MIAMI HERALD, 10/5).
However, according to analysts, "about half of the decline in the
out-of-wedlock birth rate stemmed from changes in reporting
births in California, so that children whose parents had
different surnames were no longer automatically considered to
have been born out of wedlock." As a result, fewer infants born
to California's large Hispanic population were counted as
illegitimate. Even with this revision, however, NEW YORK TIMES
reports that analysts still said the drop was "significant"
POLITICAL ARENA: POST reports that both Democrats and
Republicans "immediately lauded the numbers and began jockeying
for political credit" (10/5). In his weekly radio address,
President Clinton said, "For far too long, many Americans
believed there was nothing we could do about our most vexing
social problems ... but now it's different. Americans are
standing up for our values ... and we are making responsibility a
way of life." However, Christina Martin, press secretary for GOP
presidential nominee Bob Dole, said, "If Clinton is taking credit
for reducing teen pregnancy, then he must also accept blame for
the massive increase in teen drug use under his watch." Rep.
Clay Shaw (R-FL) said that he expects teen pregnancy and out-of-
wedlock births to continue to decline after welfare reform is
implemented. He said, "This drop in out-of-wedlock births is
small and helpful, but our nation hasn't seen anything yet"