Drop in Teen Childbearing: A Ray of Hope

Print Friendly

Figure 1Birth Rates of Women 15-19, By Marital Status19401999Figure 2Unwed Birthrates by Age1950-1998Figure 3Total Teen Births by Marital Status1940-1999Figure 4Teen Births as Percent of All Births1940-1999Figure 5Births to Unwed Teens, 15-19 years1940-1999
Source: National Center for Health Statistics, Vital Statistics of the United States, annual and “Births: Preliminary Data for 1999,” National Vital Statistics Reports, Vol. 48, No. 14, August 8, 2000.

Printing? Use the
Adobe PDF version

On August 8th the National Center for Health Statistics released its preliminary report on births in 1999. The accompanying press release contained the following statement calculated to appeal to the media’s sound-bite appetite.

“The birth rate for teenagers declined 3 percent between 1998 and 1999, to reach a rate of 49.6 births per 1,000 women ages 15-19 the lowest rate in the 60 years data on teen births have been recorded. The teen birth rate is down 20 percent from the most recent high in 1991, according to a new report from CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. The preliminary report also found a drop in the number of births to unmarried teens . . . ”

HHS News Release, August 8, 2000

This statement places primary emphasis upon a result-the change in the total teen birth rate-which is largely irrelevant and treats as secondary a result which is of true significancethe decline in unmarried teen births. As a statistical measure, the total teen birthrate is of dubious value since it mixes together the measurement of two disparate groups, married and unmarried teens, whose motivations, behaviors and circumstances have little in common. Figure 1 shows the widely divergent time paths of the birthrates of married and unmarried teens. Leaving aside the years of World War II and its aftermath, the married teen birth rate has exhibited two periods of increase and two periods of decrease; the net effect of these changes over the last 50 years has been to cut the birthrate for married teens by nearly one third.

By comparison, the unmarried teen birth rate, on the other hand, followed an unrelenting upward trend after World War II before peaking in 1994. Even with the 10 to 15 percent decline over the last 5 years, the unmarried rate is still more than 3 times its level in 1950. That it should at last be on a downward trend is an extremely important and hopeful development-an encouraging sign of change in cultural values.

In Figure 2 we see another hopeful sign of an emerging shift in cultural values. Until 1995 the trend of the unwed birth rate of 18-19 year olds had followed closely that of the rate for unwed 20-24 year olds. But beginning in 1995, both the 15-17 and 18-19 year old unwed birth rates started trending downward. In 1998, the last year for which final birth data are available, the unwed birthrate for 15-17 year olds was 30.4 per thousand and for 18-19 it was 82 per thousand.

The pro-choice media elites want to trumpet these changes as evidence that the “beneficial” effects of sex education, condom distribution, and legalized abortion are at long last being realized. But are they? Note that the legalization of abortion in 1972 had no perceptible effect on the unwed birthrate of 15-17 year olds and only a minimal effect on that of the 18-19 year olds. This stands in marked contrast to the evident effects on unwed women 20 and older. Moreover abortion rates for 15-19 year olds are significantly lower in the 1990s than they were during the 1980s.

National media tend to accept at face value the assertion that such data show teens to have become better contraceptors, even though the data were compiled by an advocacy group associated with the nation’s largest abortion provider. If increased proficiency in the use of contraceptives were the primary cause of the decline in teen pregnancies, then shouldn’t we be seeing similar results on the birth rates of women 20 and older as well?

The old guard of the sexual revolution do not want to consider the possibility that teens, having rejected the counter-culture “wisdom” of their parents’ generation, are becoming more receptive to the message that sexual abstinence-chastity before marriage-has priceless personal benefits, that biological urges can be tamed by moral virtue, and that discipline pays huge dividends.

Figure 1 Figure 2 Figure 3 Figure 4 Figure 5

Not all of the data related to unwed births are positive. Total births to all teens reached a peak of 533 thousand in 1990 and declined nearly 49 thousand by 1999, a decrease of 9 percent (see Figure 3). But this decline is entirely attributable to the fact that married-teen births declined by 70 thousand during this period. There were 22 thousand more unwed-teen births in 1999 than there were in 1990; (note that due to a drop in the number of unwed births to teens under 15, the increase for all unmarried teens from 1990 to 1999 is slightly smaller than the 24 thousand increase for unwed 15-19 year olds shown in Figure 5.) Births to unmarried teens reached their peak in 1994-up 33 thousand from their level in 1990 and since have declined by 11 thousand, just under 3 percent, producing a net increase of 22 thousand for the 1990 to 1999 period.

Figure 4 shows that teen births as a percent of all births reached a maximum of just under 20 percent in 1973. From this level the proportion dropped over the next 14 years to the 12 to 13 percent range-the same level as the early 1950s-where it has remained since 1987.

Leave a Reply