On February 19th, the Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI) released data showing a continued decline in the rate of teen pregnancies, births, and abortions among 15 to 19 year olds in all racial and ethnic groups. The decline was observed in all states and the District of Columbia.
Nationally, the United States experienced a 28% decline in the teen pregnancy rate from 1990 to 2000. In 1990, the teen pregnancy rate reached a high of 116.8 per 1,000 young women ages 15 to 19. In 2000, this number dropped to 83.6 pregnancies per 1,000 young women ages 15 to 19. Pregnancies are calculated using the sum of abortions, births, and miscarriages (including stillbirths).
According to AGI's report, North Dakota had the lowest teen pregnancy rate in the country at 42 pregnancies per 1,000 young women ages 15 to 19 and Nevada had the highest teen pregnancy rate at 113 pregnancies per 1,000 young women ages 15 to 19. Significantly surpassing all of the states, the District of Columbia however, had a higher a rate of 128 pregnancies per 1,000 young women ages 15 to 19.
The teen pregnancy rate declined among all ethnic and racial groups, though the decline was not consistent among all groups. For example, Black women ages 15 to 19 had the largest decline with 32% between 1990 and 2000, bringing the teen pregnancy rate among Black women to 153 pregnancies per 1,000 women. White women had the next largest decline with 28%, bringing the teen pregnancy rate among White women to 139 pregnancies per 1,000. The rate among Hispanic young women had the smallest decrease (15%) from 1992 to 2000 to a rate of 139 pregnancies per 1,000 women, after a slight increase from 1990 to 1992.
Teen pregnancy prevention advocates hailed the progress documented by the report. "We hope that today's news documenting a decade of progress in reducing teen pregnancy in the United States is greeted with praise for teens themselves and a growing recognition that when teen pregnancy declines, we all gain - overall child and family well-being improves, the U.S. work force is stronger, school performance gets better and poverty is directly attacked," said Sarah Brown, director of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.
Abstinence-only-until-marriage proponents credited the decline to higher rates of abstinence among America's youth. According to Leslee Unruh, president of the South Dakota-based Abstinence Clearinghouse, "This rate drop is great news for the teens of America! For years, abstinence educators have been praising the benefits of abstinence. As abstinence education has spread from a few classrooms in the 1980's to thousands of schools in the country today, the message is getting through! Teens are making decisions for virginity, and the results are clear."
Advocates of a comprehensive approach to sexuality education and prevention, however, attribute the declines in teen pregnancy to a more complex dynamic. According to researchers at the Alan Guttmacher Institute, 25% of the decline in teenage pregnancy between 1988 and 1995 was due to decreased sexual activity, while 75% was due to more effective contraceptive practice. This research was based on sexual behavior data from the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG). The next NSFG has not yet been completed.
These results are supported by another study also conducted by AGI and published in the January/February 2004 issue of AGI's Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health. This study documents that while significant gains have been made in reducing teen pregnancies, this same trend is wholly absent when it comes to young people and sexually transmitted diseases. New estimates alarmingly show that young people between the ages of 15 and 24 accounted for half of all newly diagnosed cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in 2000. "Although abstaining from sexual activity is guaranteed to prevent STDs, some adolescents-and virtually all young adults-will eventually choose to have sex," said Sharon Camp, President and CEO of AGI. "Before they do, they need realistic sex education that teaches them how to prevent STDs and unwanted pregnancies."
Tamara Kreinin, president and CEO of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS) stated, "We know what works - open, honest, and medically accurate information and education regarding sexual health with messages about both abstinence and contraception. Local, state, and federal policymakers must ensure the implementation of policies based on sound public health information and programs for all our young people that have been proven effective."