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Surge Desk

Why Aren't US Teens Having Babies So Much Anymore?

Dec 21, 2010 – 2:22 PM
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Nathaniel Jones Contributor

Is abstinence the new normal?

The teen pregnancy rate hit a record low in 2009, according to new data just released by the National Center for Health Statistics. The birth rate last year fell to 39.1 births per 1,000 teens, a decrease of 6 percent from 2008.

What's keeping America's teens childless? Surge Desk takes a look at a few of the competing explanations.

No one's having babies at any age
American teens could just be emulating their older role models; hardly anyone had babies in 2009. Birth rates also fell for women in their early 20s and for women in their late 20s and early 30s, which combined to push the total American birth rate down 4 percent from 2008.

It's the recession (of course)
Just like nearly every other trend, the teen birth rate is falling because of the recession, at least according to some experts. A study from the Pew Research Center earlier this year showed that states hit hardest by the recession had the largest decline in overall birth rates; it's not unreasonable to suggest that these effects were felt by every age group.

In one of the most pithy "quote me!" efforts Surge Desk has ever seen, Sarah Brown of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancies explained: "Maybe part of tightening our belts includes keeping our zippers closed, too!"

Bristol Palin
With her "do as I say, not as I did" message of practicing abstinence, "Dancing With the Stars" contestant Bristol Palin did her part to make sure that other teens would not follow her example.

It's because of abstinence-only education, say proponents of abstinence-only education
Abstinence-only sex education received a large part of the blame for the teen pregnancy boom of 2005-2007, so it's only right that its advocates should try to grab some share of the praise now that pregnancies are on the decline. The new data "shows that teen behaviors increasingly mirror the skills they are taught in a successful abstinence education program," said Valerie Huber of the National Abstinence Education Association.

All of the above
In all likelihood, the drop in teen pregnancy rates is probably some combination of the four factors. But that won't stop experts from arguing the downward trend points toward the need for their causes to get more funding. As the Family Research Council's Jeanne Monahan (Team Abstinence Education) argued, "With a change in policy away from abstinence education, we may expect to see a reversal of the teen pregnancy birth rate in the years to come."

Monahan's counterpart on Team Recession, James Wagoner of Advocates for Youth, disputed her point: "We still need structural reforms in sex education, contraceptive access and pragmatic public policies to ensure a long-term decline in the teen birth rate -- during good economic times as well as bad."

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Filed under: Nation, Science, Health, Surge Desk