Teen birth rate hits all-time low, led by 50 percent decline among Hispanics and blacks – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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The birth rate among American teenagers, at crisis levels in the 1990s, has fallen to an all-time low, according to an analysis released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The decline of the past decade has occurred in all regions in the country and among all races. But the most radical changes have been among Hispanic and black teens, whose birth rates have dropped nearly 50 percent since 2006.

The first cause may be obvious: Today’s teens enjoy better access to contraception and more convenient contraception than their predecessors, and more of them are taking advantage of innovations like long-acting injectable and implantable methods over a daily birth control pill.

But the second cause is something that goes against the conventional wisdom. It’s that teens, despite their portrayal in popular TV and movies as uninhibited, hormone-filled crazies, are having less sex.

“There has been a change in social norms that has happened in the past 20 years, and the idea of not having sex or delaying sex is now something that can be OK,” said Bill Albert, chief program officer for the National Campaign To Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

Mr. Albert called the milestone “one of the greatest success stories of the past two decades” in public health.

But while the overall national trend is positive, large racial and ethnic, regional and socioeconomic disparities remain. The birth rates for Hispanic and black teens, while lower than in the past, still are twice as high as that of white teens. In some states, the difference is three times higher.

In addition, some counties still have pockets of high birth rates, even in states with overall low birth rates, and many of them are clustered in the South and Southwest.

The CDC analysis of teens ages 15 to 19 also noted that the places with the highest birth rates tend to have higher unemployment, lower income and less education.

“The United States has made remarkable progress in reducing both teen pregnancy and racial and ethnic differences, but the reality is, too many American teens are still having babies,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a statement. “By better understanding the many factors that contribute to teen pregnancy we can better design, implement, evaluate, and improve prevention interventions and further reduce disparities.”

The decline in birth rates has been going on for most of the past decade but appears to be accelerating. The issue has been important to President Barack Obama, who in 2010 launched a $110 million initiative to scientifically validate prevention programs that work and to replicate them throughout the country.

The nation’s teen birth rate peaked in 1991, a time when posters of sad, pregnant girls were plastered on buses and subway stations and popular culture was filled with references to “babies having babies.” The alarm was backed by evidence showing that having unplanned children at a young age carries numerous negative health and social consequences.

Over the next 23 years, the birth rate plummeted 60 percent from 61.8 births per 1,000 in 1991 to 24.2 births per 1,000 in 2014, the lowest rate on record. Yet even with the dramatic improvement, studies still estimate that teen births cost taxpayers an estimated $9 billion each year.

It’s impossible to talk about unwanted teen pregnancies without the subject of abortion coming up. While the new CDC report did not address this issue, research by the Guttmacher Institute shows that the decline in births is likely to be unrelated to more terminated pregnancies.

Researcher Isaac Maddow-Zimet said Thursday that teen pregnancies have been declining for 40 years, which by itself could explain the falling birth rates. Likewise, an analysis of 2011 abortion numbers, which represent the most recent and comprehensive data set available, shows that abortion rates in every state but Vermont decreased or remained the same from the previous year.

Thomas FriedenCenters for Disease Control and PreventionUnited States government

Teen birth rate hits all-time low, led by 50 percent decline among Hispanics and blacks – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette