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Teen Birth Rates Decrease: Are Real Consequences Having Real Effects?

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Parents and policy makers happily noted the just-released Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) latest finding that teenage birth rates have significantly declined.  The statistics from 2009, the most recent year for data collection, show that teenage birth rates “were at the lowest levels ever reported in the United States, declining a significant 37 percent over the last two decades.”

According to the CDC report, birth rates for teens aged 15-17 dropped in 31 states during a two-year period, 2007-2009, and rates for older teenagers aged 18-19 also declined a significant amount in 45 states during this same time period.

This 70-year low in teen birth rates raises questions about the reason for such a significant decline –– especially after years of increased birth rates and popular TV shows such as “16 and Pregnant” being the standard for modern adolescent culture.

With an increasingly sexualized culture, fewer and later marriages, and reports about rampant promiscuity, questions about what might be leading to this decrease in teen births are very legitimate.

Answers include speculation about the influence of abortion, the economic recession, and better use of contraceptives.

The decline in teen births is not due to increased abortions.  Actually, the abortion rate in the U.S. is also at record lows — the lowest in more than 30 years.  Just over one in five pregnancies ends in abortion (down from one in four in 2000).  The actual number of abortions has been on a steady decline, having reached their peak in 1990.  In another important indicator of shifting attitudes about abortion, the number of abortion providers has also dropped to under 2,000 (a decrease of more than two percent).

The decline is not due to the recession.  Some suggest that the recession has increased awareness of how much it costs to sustain a family, making teens think twice about their choices.  Research released earlier in the spring by the Pew Research Center found that states hit hardest by the recession experienced the biggest drops in births. Obviously, hard economic times have impact, but sexual activity is typically motivated by emotions and not restrained by fiscal concerns.

The decline is not due to better teen contraception.  Increased use of contraception has also been cited as playing a role in the decrease of teen pregnancies; however significant numbers of sexually-active teens do not use contraception.  The CDC reported that forty-six percent of teens have had sexual intercourse, but 14 percent of girls and 10 percent of boys say that they do not use any type of birth control.

Abstinence and better knowledge about the consequences to too-early sexual activity is a more likely reason for the decline in teen pregnancy.  While “sex-education” proponents and those who benefit financially from teen sexual activity would like to cite other reasons and downplay the influence of more widespread support for the benefits of abstinence and more widespread support for the abstinence message among young people, the data clearly indicate that the abstinence message is getting through to today’s youth.  Our teens are more aware of the variety and prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases, the harms of promiscuity, and the disruption that an unplanned pregnancy brings to a teen’s life — in spite of Planned Parenthood and MTV’s attempts to normalize the consequences and profit from increased teen sexual activity.

Obviously, teens living with the consequences of their over-sexualized environment are realizing the not-so-glamorous truths about the “hook-up” culture.