Teen birth rate hits all-time low

 

Slate

With the ever-present buzz of cultural panic about young people, especially young women, having sex, you’d be forgiven for thinking we’re living in the midst of some kind of sexual-health pandemic, with our high schools and even junior high schools overflowing with the swollen bellies of pregnant teenagers. The reality, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released last week, is that the teen birth rate has plunged downward yet again, falling 6 percent between 2011 and 2012. It has never been lower, as least not in the 73 years the government has been tracking it.

Prior to the current plummet that started in 1991, the lowest teen birth rate since the government started collecting data in 1940 was in 1945, when it was 51.1 births per 1,000 girls ages 15-19. It’s now at 29.4 births per 1,000 girls. In the 1950s, the favorite “good old days” era of conservatives who want to bring back America, the teen birth rate was three times what it is now, reaching a peak of 96.3 per 1,000 in 1957. While there’s been a gradual decline since then, the past few years have seen especially rapid change. Even as recently as 2007, the rate was still at 41.5.

So what’s changed? It certainly wasn’t that teenagers en masse decided to stop having sex. Teen sex rates have stayed about the same since 2002. Abortions for teen-agers haven’t gone up, either. As much as the Sandra Fluke haters will cringe to hear it, the difference is contraception use. Speaking to NBC News, John Santelli, a professor of population and family health at Columbia University, attributed the change to a greater emphasis on getting effective contraception to teens, especially long-acting methods like the IUD. I’d add that organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have also been more aggressive lately in promoting teen sexual health, perhaps making it easier for families to get their kids into the contraception plans they need.

Or maybe it’s just that in 2008, the mere existence of Bristol Palin showed that conservatives didn’t even believe their own story about abstinence-only as an effective teen-pregnancy prevention tool. It’s hard to sell kids on the idea to avoid contraception when the results of that advice are on stage at the Republican convention.

Indeed, it’s important not to overlook the role that sex education plays in all this. As Tara Culp-Ressler at ThinkProgress points out, teen birth rates vary wildly by state, with conservative states having a higher rate. The state of California is perhaps the most stunning example of how swiftly things can change, going from more than 70 births per 1,000 girls to 28 since 1991, in no small part because of aggressive sex education and family-planning programs. Teens simply do better if they’re given the tools to stay safe when they do have sex and don’t do as well with the “just say No” message.

Amanda Marcotte is a journalist, opinion writer and author of two books on progressive politics.

© 2013, Slate

Read more From Our Inbox stories from the Miami Herald

  • Censoring Islamic State on Twitter Is useless

    When a powerful denial-of-service attack brought down Sony’s PlayStation Network on Sunday, a group that claimed responsibility said it had acted on behalf of the Islamic State, the rapidly growing terrorist organization in the Middle East. Even if the “Lizard Squad” had nothing to do with it, the story was just another example of Islamic State’s devilish skill at promoting itself on social networks.

  • I demonstrated as an angry mob destroyed the U.S. embassy. I’m sorry.

    On Dec. 19, 1998, U.S. embassies across the Arab world felt the ire of residents outraged by U.S.-British airstrikes on Iraq. The most violent demonstrations occurred in Syria, where protesters stormed the U.S. and British embassies in Damascus. Protesters also destroyed the residence of U.S. Ambassador to Syria Ryan Crocker, who lodged vigorous objections with the Syrian government in response. I was among those protesters.

  • Why I let my children walk to the corner store — and why other parents should, too

    Of all the adventures my lucky children had this summer — swimming in two oceans, hanging out on their bearded uncle’s commercial salmon fishing boat, endless popsicles — the biggest one, they told me, was just 495 feet away in their own Washington, D.C., neighborhood.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category