The Teen Pregnancy Rate Has Dropped 50 Percent in Two Decades

A new report finds teen pregnancy, birth, and abortion rates at a historic low.

National Journal
Sophie Novack
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Sophie Novack
May 5, 2014, 6:29 a.m.

Teens are get­ting smarter about sex.

About 6 per­cent of fe­male teens (ages 15 to 19) be­came preg­nant in 2010, ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­leased Monday by the re­pro­duct­ive health non­profit, the Guttmach­er In­sti­tute.

That’s down 15 per­cent from two years pri­or, and a de­crease of 51 per­cent from the highest level in 1990.

Older teens — those 18 to 19 — made up 69 per­cent of teen preg­nan­cies. This age group had a sub­stan­tially lower rate of preg­nancy des­pite a high­er por­tion re­port­ing that they have had sex, which the re­port says is likely due to more ef­fect­ive means of con­tra­cep­tion and im­proved us­age.

The teen birthrate fell 44 per­cent from its peak rate of more than 6 per­cent in 1991, to less than 4 per­cent in 2010.

The teen abor­tion rate is the low­est since it was leg­al­ized 40 years ago, and 66 per­cent lower than its highest point in 1988. The pro­por­tion of teen­age preg­nan­cies that ended in abor­tion de­clined from 46 per­cent to 30 per­cent since 1986.

The re­port found that al­though preg­nancy rates de­clined sig­ni­fic­antly across ra­cial and eth­nic groups, large dif­fer­ences in preg­nancy, birth, and abor­tion rates per­sist.

The preg­nancy rate de­clined more than 50 per­cent in the past two dec­ades among non-His­pan­ic white teen­agers, black teen­agers, and His­pan­ic teen­agers, yet it re­mains more than twice as high for blacks and His­pan­ics as for non-His­pan­ic whites. The abor­tion rate for His­pan­ics is al­most twice that of non-His­pan­ic whites, while the rate for black teen­agers is more than three times as high.

Teen preg­nancy rates de­clined in all 50 states between 2008 and 2010, but sig­ni­fic­ant dif­fer­ences re­main across state lines.

States with the highest preg­nancy rates in­cluded New Mex­ico, Mis­sis­sippi, Texas, Arkan­sas, Louisi­ana, and Ok­lahoma, which ranged from about 7 per­cent to 8 per­cent. Those with the low­est rates were New Hamp­shire, Ver­mont, Min­nesota, Mas­sachu­setts, and Maine, which were all be­low 4 per­cent.

More than half of teen­age preg­nan­cies — ex­clud­ing still­births and mis­car­riages — ended in abor­tion in New York, New Jer­sey, and Con­necti­c­ut.

Mean­while, the states with the low­est pro­por­tions of teen preg­nan­cies end­ing in abor­tion ten­ded to be states that now have the most re­strict­ive anti-abor­tion le­gis­la­tion: South Dakota, Kan­sas, Ken­tucky, Ok­lahoma, Utah, Arkan­sas, Mis­sis­sippi, Neb­raska, and Texas. In each of these states, less than 15 per­cent of teen preg­nan­cies ended in abor­tions.

The au­thors of the re­port cite sev­er­al factors that likely ac­count for the dis­crep­an­cies among states: demo­graph­ics, avail­ab­il­ity of sex edu­ca­tion and con­tra­cept­ive ser­vices, and over­all at­ti­tudes to­ward sex and early child­bear­ing.

Read the full re­port here.

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