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Student Well-Being

Falling Teenage Birthrate Fuels Drop in Overall U.S. Rate

May 12, 1999 4 min read

Falling Teenage Birthrate Fuels Drop
In Overall U.S. Rate
: The overall birthrate in the United States has dropped to a record low, in part because of the continuing decline in the rate at which teenage girls give birth.

The teenage birthrate declined steadily from 1991 to 1997, according to “Births: Final Data for 1997,” a report released by the National Center for Health Statistics, the Alan Guttmacher Institute, and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. In 1997, the teenage birthrate was 52.3 per 1,000 births, 16 percent lower than the 62.1 rate in 1991.

The overall U.S. birthrate hit a record low in number of births, with 14.5 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44. The previous low was in 1976 with 14.6 births per 1,000.

“This sustained national improvement is evidence that innovative programs to reach teenagers with information and support to make responsible choices are working,” Donna E. Shalala, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said April 29 in releasing the report.

All states have been successful in decreasing the rate of teenage pregnancy. In 10 states and the District of Columbia, the teenage birthrate declined by 20 percent or more over six years. In 1997, Vermont recorded the lowest teenage birthrate--26.9 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 19. Mississippi had the highest, at 73.7 births per 1,000 women in that age group.

Though the birthrate declined for all races, the greatest decline--25 percent--was seen among non-Hispanic black teenagers and Puerto Rican teenagers.

“The majority of the decline among sexually active teens is due to improved contraceptive use,” said Rebekah Saul, a public-policy associate with the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a New York City-based reproductive-health research group.

Ms. Saul estimates that 80 percent of the decline in births among teenage girls was due to more effective use of contraceptives and 20 percent was due to a slight decrease in sexuality activity.

“The ‘why behind the why'--what is driving this behavior change--is impossible to quantify,” Ms. Saul said.

The full report is available online at

Latino Birthrates: In a separate report on the teenage birthrate, the Child Welfare League of America says programs need to focus on Latino teenagers, who continue to have the highest birthrate of all ethnic groups.

In 1997, the birthrate among Latino teenage girls ages 15 to 19 was 99.1 per 1,000. Among non-Latino whites, the rate was 36.4 per 1,000, and among blacks, it was 89.5 per 1,000.

“First Talk: A Teen Pregnancy Prevention Dialogue Among Latinos,” released last month, examines approaches to pregnancy prevention, including the federal government’s efforts.

“These approaches to teen-pregnancy prevention have not traditionally focused on Latino youth,” Elba Montalvo, the chairwoman of the Council of Latino Executives, said in a written statement.

Latinos have the highest poverty rate of any racial or ethnic group in the United States, and research shows a direct relationship between poverty level, education level of parents, and adolescent pregnancy rates, the report says.

Copies of the report are available for $14.95 each from the league’s publications office, (800) 407-6273.

Talking About Drugs: When teenagers learn about drug abuse at home, they are less likely to use drugs, a national study concludes, but only one-fourth of teenagers say their parents talk to them about drugs.

The Partnership for a Drug-Free America, which released the report last month, says only 27 percent of teenagers report learning about the risks associated with drug abuse from their parents. But, the report says, those who do talk to their parents about drugs are 42 percent less likely to use them.

“What is truly complicated about this is that parents really believe they’re doing their job in this area, but the data suggest otherwise,” said James E. Burke, the chairman of the New York City-based partnership.

The study surveyed more than 9,000 children and parents. It questioned 2,258 youths ages 9 to 12, 6,852 teenagers ages 13 to 18, and 809 parents. The margin of error is 2.8 percent for those 9 to 12, 1.8 percent for the teenagers, and 3.9 percent for parents.

Virtually all of the parents--98 percent--said they had talked to their teenagers about drugs at least once, but only 65 percent of children recalled such a conversation.

A number of variables influence parent-child communication, including the willingness of the parents to broach the subject and a parent’s ability to articulate clear expectations about drug use, the report says.

The greatest obstacle that parents face is believing their children are at risk, it says. Among those surveyed, 14 percent of parents said it was possible their teenage children might have used marijuana, while 42 percent of teenagers said they had tried the drug. The survey is online at .

--Adrienne D. Coles

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A version of this article appeared in the May 12, 1999 edition of Education Week as Falling Teenage Birthrate Fuels Drop in Overall U.S. Rate


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