Every Saturday the CSPH highlights news or recent research in the field of human sexuality. This week we’re discussing information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which states that recently the U.S. teen birth rate hit its lowest mark in 70 years.
The CDC reported that the U.S. teen birth rate declined 9 percent from 2009 to 2010, reaching a historic low at 34.3 births per 1,000 women aged 15–19. The rate dropped 44 percent from 1991 through 2010. Teen birth rates by age and race were also lower in 2010 than ever reported in the United States. Rates declined by 9 percent for non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic black teenagers, by 12 percent for American Indian or Alaska Native (AIAN) and Hispanic teenagers, and by 13 percent for Asian or Pacific Islander (API) teenagers from 2009 to 2010.
The impact of the decline in the teen birth rate on the number of births to teenagers over the nearly two-decade period (1992–2010), according to the CDC report, is substantial. If the 1991 rates had continued to prevail from 1992 through 2010, there would have been an additional 3.4 million births to women aged 15–19 in the United States. These estimated additional births also take into account the rise in the female teen population as well as changes in the female teen population composition during this period.
Recently released data from the National Survey of Family Growth, conducted by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), have shown an increase in the use of contraception at first initiation of sex and increase in the use of dual methods of contraception (e.g. condoms and hormonal methods) among sexually active female and male teenagers.
According to the CDC, these increased trends in birth control use and pregnancy prevention messages directed to teenagers are the likely cause of the recent birth rate declines.
These findings should not, however, be taken as a sign that the current state of sex education and availability of birth control are sufficient. While the teen pregnancy rate is decreasing, rates of various STIs and HIV have been increasing in women for years. If a slight increase in the amount of birth control available to teens and a very slight increase in sex education that is not abstinence-only can account for this significant decrease in unwanted pregnancy, imagine what universal access to birth control and a complete overthrow of abstinence-only education could do?