More Good News About Teens: Adolescent Pregnancy Rates at the Lowest Level in 40 Years

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More Good News About Teens: Adolescent Pregnancy Rates at the Lowest Level in 40 Years

Martha Kempner

Data released today show that the teen pregnancy rate is down 42 percent from its 1990 high with rates declining among all racial and ethnic and age groups. Researchers credit young people—and their effective contraceptive use—with these declines. 

Researchers at the Guttmacher Institute released the 2008 statistics on adolescent pregnancy today and the news is quite positive.  The data show that in 2008 there were 67.8 pregnancies per 1,000 women ages 15 to 19.  This is the lowest rate in nearly 40 years and represents a 42 percent decrease from 1990 when teen pregnancies peaked at 116.9 pregnancies per 1,000 young women.  The teen pregnancy rate among women younger than 15 fell even further (62 percent) during that same period from 17.5 to 6.6 per 1,000.

Not surprisingly, teen birth and abortion rates have also fallen. Between 1991 and 2008, the teen birthrate declined 35 percent from 61.8 to 40.2 births per 1,000 young women ages 15 to 19, and the abortion rate declined 59 percent from its 1988 peak of 43.5 per 1,000 to just 17.8 abortions per 1,000 young women 15 to 19.

The researchers believe that the declines in teen pregnancies and the births and abortions that result are primarily due to more effective contraceptive use by teens. They point to:

“a large body of research [that] has shown that the long-term decline in teen pregnancy, birth, and abortion rates was driven primarily by improved use of contraception among teens.”

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This includes better use by teens as well use of newer, more effective methods.  Today’s data support this conclusion because while there was a decrease in the proportion of teen girls who were sexually experienced since the 1990s, that proportion has not changed in recent years and yet the pregnancy rate continues to go down.  Moreover, the data show that the pregnancy rate is decreasing even among sexually experienced young women; the pregnancy rate among those young women who had ever had intercourse declined by 29 percent since 1990 from 223.1 to 158.5 per 1,000 sexually experienced women ages 15 to 19.    

The Guttmacher Institute concluded:

“In sum, teens appear to be making the decision to be more effective contraceptive users, and their actions are paying off in lower pregnancy, birth, and abortion rates.” 

That said, however, the researchers note that racial and ethnic disparities, while not as wide as they once were, are still prevalent. Despite the fact that there were dramatic reductions in pregnancy, birth, and abortion rates across all racial and ethnic groups, pregnancy rates among black and Hispanic teens remain atwo to three times higher than those of non-Hispanic white teens, birth rates among black and Hispanic teens are twice those among whites, abortion rates among Hispanic teens are twice those among whites, and the abortion rate for black teens is four times that of whites.

Kathryn Kost, the study’s lead author, concluded:

“The recent declines in teen pregnancy rates are great news. However, the continued inequities among racial and ethnic minorities are cause for concern. It is time to redouble our efforts to ensure that all teens have access to the information and contraceptive services they need to prevent unwanted pregnancies.”

U.S. Teenage Pregnancies, Births and Abortions, 2008: National Trends by Age, Race and Ethnicity” by Kathryn Kost and Stanley Henshaw is currently available online.