There is something else to celebrate this holiday season! According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the rate of teenage births in the United States has reached a historic low, dropping to 29.4 births per 1,000 females aged 15-19. This compares to a rate of 31.3 in 2011 and 61.8 in 1991.
To account for the decline, experts point primarily to “a mix of greater access to birth control and better sex education.” Over the last few years, the FDA has made birth control available over-the-counter to girls as young as 15. The Affordable Care Act has mandated insurance companies to cover contraception in health plans. And the Obama administration has disbursed $155 million in teenage pregnancy prevention grants to states, school districts, and non-profit organizations.
A number of economic and cultural factors may have also played a role. The recession, and resulting decline in youth employment, may have reduced teenagers’ confidence in their ability to support a child. Changing norms may have altered teenagers’ perceptions of the appropriate age for childbirth. Finally, popular TV shows like “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” may have enhanced teenagers’ “understanding of the challenges of [pregnancy] and parenting, and how to avoid it”.
Whatever the reason, the decline in teen births is a societal victory. After all, studies suggest that teenage mothers are at a higher risk of leaving school and facing un- or under-employment. They also often suffer from social isolation, abuse, stress, and depression. The children of teenage mothers also pay a price. In general, they experience weaker intellectual development and more behavioral problems than their counterparts.
But don’t crack open a bottle of champagne just yet. The teen birth rate in the US remains higher than in many other developed countries. Canada, Germany, France, and the Netherlands, for example, all enjoy lower rates. Furthermore, US rates vary considerably by race and geography. While the rate for white females is 20.5, the rates for black and Hispanic females are 43.9 and 46.3, respectively. The rates are also lowest in New England (under 17.0) and highest in the south (above 50.0 in Arkansas and Mississippi).
Therefore, support for teenage mothers in the US is still needed. To help, please donate to A Young Mother’s DREAM, The Brooklyn Young Mothers Collective, or our partners, A Women’s Pregnancy Center and Advocates for Adolescent Mothers.
Flickr Photo Credit: Joshua Rappeneker