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U.S. Leads Developed Nations in Rate of Teen-Age Pregnancy

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The United States leads most developed nations in rates of teen-age pregnancy, abortion, and childbearing and is the only developed country where the rate of teen-age pregnancy has been increasing, according to a new international study.

The U.S. rate of teen-age abortion alone, the study found, is as high or higher than the combined teen-age abortion and birth rates in each of five other of the world's most advanced nations.

The study--by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization for re6search, policy analysis, and public education--found that pregnancies, abortions, and births involving American teen-agers substantially exceed the rates for teen-agers in Canada, England and Wales, France, the Netherlands, and Sweden.

The study was based on a close analysis of fertility statistics in those countries in comparison with U.S. figures, and on a broader survey of birth rates in 37 nations. Among the broader group of countries, only East-ern European nations--such as Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania--and Chile, Cuba, and Puerto Rico were found to have teen-age birth rates exceeding those of the United States.

In those countries, however, the researchers cited contributing characteristics of early marriage, pro-fertility policies, and generous maternity benefits that are not found in the United States.

Among the nations selected for further analysis on the basis of comparable cultural and socioeconomic factors, the United States showed disproportionately high rates of teen-age pregnancy, abortion, and childbirth.

Rate for Whites High

Noting a large differentential within the United States between the pregnancy rates of black teen-agers and white teen-agers (163 per 1,000 compared with 83 per 1,000, respectively), the report points out that the rates of pregnancy, abortion, and births for white teen-agers alone are much higher than the overall rates in most industrialized nations.

The U.S. pregnancy rate for 15-to-19-year-olds is 96 per 1,000, compared with 45 in England and Wales, 43 in France, 35 in Sweden, and 14 in the Netherlands, according to the study.

Moreover, the contrast in rates among these six countries "is particularly striking for young teen-agers," the report states. "In fact, the maximum relative difference in the birthrate between the United States and other countries occurs at ages under 15. With more than five births per 1,000 girls age 14, the U.S. rate is around four times that of Canada, the only other country with as much as one birth per 1,000 girls of comparable age."

The study was conducted with the assistance of researchers from Princeton University's office of population research and was funded by the Ford Foundation. A report on the findings is contained in the March/April 1985 edition of the institute's journal, Family Planning Perspectives.

U.S. Characteristics 'Differ'

In gathering statistics on the 37 countries, the researchers found several factors that they say correlate with adolescent fertility: low6levels of socioeconomic development; national policies that encourage childbirth; generous maternity leaves and benefits; and early marriage.

"It is notable," the report states, "that the United States differs from most of the countries with comparable high adolescent fertility" on these factors. On the other hand, the study pointed to several characteristics that are associated with high teen-age fertility and are distinctly present in the United States, according to the report, including "a lack of openness about sex," "very high levels of religiosity," and restrictions on teen-agers' access to contraception devices and on information about sex and birth control in the schools.

Attitudes, Not Policies

The researchers argue on the basis of their data that access to abortion services, liberal welfare benefits, and greater availability of birth control and sex education do not lead to more abortions or a higher pregnancy rate.

In fact, the report states, those countries that have the most liberal attitudes about sex and make contraceptive and counseling services most accessible to teen-agers have the lowest rates of teen-age pregnancy, abortion, and childbearing.

The report concludes that "where the birth rate is lower, the abortion rate also tends to be lower."

"The debate in this country keeps coming back to sexual activity, but the data show that sexual activity is not the key variable," said Barbara Parks, a spokesman for the Alan Guttmacher Institute. "Most important are other more elusive variables involving adult attitudes. American adults are sending very mixed messages to teen-agers."--mm

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