Good Public Policies Have Contributed to Reducing Teen Birth Rates in America
We should celebrate our national successes and the reduction of our teen birth rate is a shining example of what good public policies can accomplish. A Pew Research Center analysis of newly released data from the National Center for Health Statistics shows that we have lowered birth rates among 15 to 19-year-olds by more than half in just the last decade [2008-2018].
Teen pregnancy was viewed as a dangerous epidemic in the 1990s. A 1994 National Institute of Health research article explained the problem and suggested how we might address the issue:
National Institute of Health: "Under current socioeconomic conditions, unmarried adolescent mothers are likely to live in poverty and their offspring are at high risk of learning disabilities, child abuse, and foster care placements. Although young people are bombarded with images of sexuality in the mass media, school-based sex education programs tend to promote abstinence and withhold information on or access to contraception. It is essential that material on human sexuality is integrated into the curriculum as early as kindergarten if the teen pregnancy rate and the intergenerational transmission of early childbearing under conditions of poverty are to be reduced."
It turns out that they were right. We don't have all the answers yet, but abandoning abstinence-only until marriage sex-ed programs and providing better information about human sexuality and contraception was an important element in this success. In 1990 the teen birth rate was about 61 per 1000 women, but has now dropped to just 17.4 per 1000 in 2018.
Our success since the 1990s in lowering the teen birth rate involved a complex stew of public policies and social changes:
1. Replacing failed abstinence-only sex-ed programs in the schools with comprehensive sexual education programs was one of the largest factors. We have reviewed the research in numerous articles and the evidence is overwhelming.
Dr. Heather Sher: "Teens who received comprehensive sex-ed had a lower risk of pregnancy and STD infection than teens who received abstinence-only or no sex education at all in the U.S."
2. Unmarried teens, like all age groups, are having less sex and when they do, more are using contraception.
Pew: "For one thing, there has been a significant decline in the percentage of never-married girls and women ages 15 to 19 who report that they have ever had sex, from 51% in 1988 to 42% in 2011-15, according to National Survey of Family Growth data. Among those teens who have had sex, the majority (81% of females and 84% of males) used a contraceptive method the first time they had sex. This figure has not changed significantly for males, but it has increased for females since 2002, when 74.5% used contraception."
3. The great recession of 2008 probably contributed, but the birth rate continued to fall even as the economy bounced back after 2009.
Pew: "One possible factor is the economy: A Pew Research Center analysis in 2011 tied the declining birth rate to the economic downturn of the recession. But this trend in teen birth rates has continued even as the economy has recovered, and birth rates for teens have fallen faster than they have for all women ages 15 to 44 (58% and 4% declines, respectively, from 2008 to 2018)."
4. Combining comprehensive sex-ed with easy access to long-acting reversible contraceptives, such as Colorado did, dramatically reduced teenage pregnancies. And, even in states that aren't offering free long-acting contraceptives, their use is increasing among teens.
5. The use of emergency contraception, like the morning-after pill, is also becoming more widespread among teenagers, increasing from 8 percent in 2002 to 23 percent in 2001-15.
6. Popular Culture probably plays an important, and possibly growing, role. For instance, researchers at Brookings have linked the drop in teen pregnancy to MTV's reality TV show, "16 and Pregnant". The show depicts the difficulties that teen moms face raising children.
Implementing good public policies which work isn't always easy, so when we get things right, we should celebrate a bit.
By: Don Lam & Curated Content