Why the US teen birthrate hit a record low in 2010
Last year, the teen birthrate dropped to the lowest level ever reported in the US. Increased use of birth control is one reason, and many say that parent-child dialogue is key.
(Page 2 of 2)
Those who press for expanded birth-control access for teens were disappointed, however, when Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius decided Dec. 7 to keep the emergency contraceptive pill known as Plan B One-Step unavailable to anyone younger than 17, without a prescription. The issue has been politically contentious, pitting parental rights against teen access to emergency contraception.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Behind the trend in lower birthrates for teens (and a decline in abortions, too) is "more effective" sex education, says Leslie Kantor, vice president of education for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "Whether it's in the public school system or community-based venues, we've really learned over the last 20 years what kinds of programs help young people to really change their behavior."
Supporters of abstinence-only education look at these studies, however, and see numbers that back their approach.
The share of teenagers who have had sex is also on the decline, the National Survey of Family Growth shows. In 1988, 51.1 percent of girls ages 15 to 19 were sexually active; between 2006 and 2010, that figure fell to 42.6 percent. For boys in the same age group, 60.4 percent were sexually active in 1988, compared with 41.8 percent in the latest study.
"The one thing we know for certain is more teens are waiting to have sex, which tells us this is a message that's resonating with them," says Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association in Washington.
While the Bush administration endorsed abstinence-focused policies, President Obama has placed a higher premium on sex education programs, devoting $155 million in the 2011 budget to evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention efforts. Ms. Kantor, of Planned Parenthood, hopes that funding will pay dividends in coming years with a continued decline in the teen birthrate.
Some experts suggest that another variable may be in play – the economy. During tough fiscal times, the birthrate tends to drop across age groups. In 2007, more than 4.3 million babies were born in the US, according to the Pew Research Center. That number hovered around 4 million in 2010.
"In a tighter economic context, people are maybe more attentive to the costs involved in childbearing," says Dr. Lawrence Finer of Guttmacher Institute.
Getting pregnant too young has emotional and long-term financial costs, of course. Reis, an associate professor of women's and gender studies at the University of Oregon in Eugene, says she broached the matter not only with her daughter but has talked with her students, too. One promising freshman she knew dropped out of college after getting pregnant and having a child. Her parents had never discussed the merits of birth control; abstinence was their only directive.
Reis hoped to ensure that scenario would not play out with Leah.
"Just because we're having the conversation doesn't mean you have to have sex," she told her teen. "I just want you to be prepared."
Get daily or weekly updates from CSMonitor.com delivered to your inbox. Sign up today.