Teen Births Rise Again – What Does it Mean?

Print More

The federal government's vital statistics records show a second year of increase in the birth rate among U.S. teens from 2006 to 2007, drawing speculation that the unexpected 3 percent increase from 2005 to 2006 - the first increase since 1991 - may have been more than a statistical blip.

The new report, Births: Preliminary Data for 2007, released yesterday by the National Center for Health Statistics, shows that the birth rate for teens ages 15 to 19 rose by about 1 percent in 2007, to 42.5 births per 1,000 teens in that age bracket. The 2006 rate was 41.9. 

The number of births among teens 15 to 19 rose by 9,609 in 2007 to 445,045 births, compared with 435,436 births in 2006.

The birth rates for teens ages 15 to17 and 18 to 19 each increased by 1 percent in 2007, to 22.2 and 73.9 births per 1,000, respectively. The birth rate for the youngest group, ages 10 to 14, was unchanged in 2007.

The increase in 2006 from 2005 followed a 14-year downward trend that saw the birth rate for 15- to 19-year-olds fall by 34 percent from its all-time high in 1991 of 61.8 births per 1,000. Last year, officials said that while the change in direction was notable, more years of data were needed to determine if the decline might be part of a trend.

To add context, teens aren't the only ones whose fertility is on the rise. According to the report, the number of births to all women in 2007 rose 1 percent, to just over 4.3 million - the "highest number of births ever registered for the United States." The overall fertility rate also increased by 1 percent in 2007, to 69.5 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44 - the highest level since 1990.

In a brief that attempts to deconstruct the rise in teen births, Kristen Moore, a senior scholar at the D.C.-based social science research firm Child Trends, points out that the increases in 2006 and 2007 were not the "sudden reversal" that some observers proclaimed.

Moore writes in Teen Births: Examining the Recent Increase, that the "annual declines that had been in the range of 3 percent to 5 percent each year over the previous decade were replaced by much smaller declines in 2004 and 2005 (1.2 percent and 1.5 percent). Moreover, in percentage terms, the increase in the number of teen births far exceeded the increase in the teen population."

The Child Trends brief posits that myriad factors may be affecting the teen birth rate, including:

* Changes in the racial/ethnic makeup of the U.S. teen population that reflect an increase in the number of teens from high-fertility subgroups such as Hispanic teen females - who have the highest rates of teen pregnancy and birth.

* Increases in teen sexual activity and declines in teen contraceptive use, as measured by such instruments as the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey. Also, statistics indicate a general decline in the abortion rate among all U.S. women through 2005 - the most recent year for which data are available.

* The current economic environment, which exacerbates a historical trend of early and non-marital childbearing among disadvantaged populations.

* Declines between 2005 and 2006 in federal funding for teen family planning services, and a federal emphasis on abstinence-only education that resulted in declines from 1995 to 2002 in "the percentage of women reporting having received formal contraceptive education, from 87 percent to 70 percent."

On the other hand, abstinence education supporters say the increase in the teen birth rate shows the need to promote sexual abstinence as the only sure way to prevent pregnancy.

* Prevention fatigue among policymakers, funders, service providers and teens themselves that has resulted in complacency, along with decreased support for and weariness of the pregnancy prevention message.

"Two years of increases in the teen birth rate are a wake-up call showing the need to target efforts to help teens delay sexual activity, improve contraceptive use, and delay early and generally unplanned childbearing," Child Trends Senior Research Scientist Jennifer Manlove said in a written statement.