Birth rates for black and white teens (ages 15 to 19) continue to fall at a much faster pace than those for Latina teenagers, according to a new study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Overall teen birth rates declined from 49 to 46 per 1,000 last year, the 10th straight year of decline, according to the National Vital Statistics Report released in June.
“When it comes to teen sex, pregnancy and births, 1991 to 2001 is now firmly on record as the decade of substantial progress,” said Sarah Brown, director of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy in Washington, D.C.
But while 10 years of decline have brought a 26 percent drop in the overall teen birth rate – including a 37 percent decrease among blacks – the Latina rates dropped only 13 percent and actually increased by 1 percent between 1999 and 2000.
The Latina birth rate of 92 per 1,000 is 21 percent higher than the rate for black teens, the group with the second-highest rate. That doesn’t mean Latinas get pregnant more: Data from a 1997 National Vital Statistics Report (the most recent teen pregnancy information available by ethnic group) show higher pregnancy rates among blacks, with the rate for Latinas declining in the 1990s.
The reason for the high Latina birth rate is a matter of considerable debate. (See “Latinas’ Perplexing Lead in Teen Births,” January 2000.) For one thing, Brown said, blacks are more inclined to elect abortion than Hispanics.
“Latinas are more likely to be Catholic, and the church has made its position on abortion very clear,” Brown said. “But my sense is that it’s larger than that. There are probably a lot of strong cultural traditions that are complicated but help to explain” the difference.
Many Hispanic parents are overwhelmed when it comes to discussing sex with their children, said Orlando Milian, who has worked with the National Campaign on researching Hispanic attitudes toward teen pregnancy in Los Angeles, New York, Houston and Miami.
“There is somewhat of a cultural taboo when it comes to talking about sex. ‘Our parents never talked to us about this, so why should we?’” Milian said at a December conference, “It All Starts at Home,” moderated by the National Campaign.
Parents told Milian that they felt largely unable to affect their kids’ decision-making. “I guess [they were] overwhelmed by the differences between their kids’ environment and how they were raised,” Milian said. “They felt that there’s perhaps too much freedom in this country.”
Jane Delgado, director of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, said that Hispanic parents “want to be the ones to talk to their kids, but need training on how to talk to their children about sexuality.” Delgado said teen pregnancy is just another health issue in which Latino groups lag because of a lack of funding and Spanish-language programs.
Brown echoed Delgado’s call for more efforts to help Hispanic parents by giving them information to share with their children, but she stressed that it is ultimately the parents’ responsibility to talk with their kids about sexual relationships. “It’s not just about abstinence versus contraception,” Brown said. “Parents need to address their kids on contextual issues. They ignore those questions at their peril.”