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Teen Birth Rate Has Dropped Dramatically

4 million fewer births attributed to less sex, more contraception, but U.S. rate still higher than comparable nations

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Dennis Thompson

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 20, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. teen birth rates fell dramatically during the past two decades, plummeting 57 percent and saving taxpayers billions of dollars, a new government report shows.

An estimated 4 million fewer births occurred among teenagers as a result of the decline, according to researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That "eye-opening" reduction in births "leapt out at me from the report," said Bill Albert, chief program officer of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

"We know, for instance, that only about 40 percent of teen mothers ever graduate from high school," Albert continued. "Translate that number -- 4 million fewer births -- into a much, much lower high school graduation rate, and think about the prospects for those young women in this day and age and in this economy. It's pretty sobering."

The researchers estimate that taxpayers saved $12 billion in 2010 alone as a result of the decline in teen births since 1991, since teen mothers are more likely to need food stamps, Medicaid and other government assistance. A child born to a teen mother costs taxpayers $1,700 a year from birth up to age 15, the CDC report said.

The decline in teen birth rates has occurred in all 50 states, with all race and ethnic groups experiencing a reduction in teenage parenthood, said report author Stephanie Ventura, a senior demographer for the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.

The teen birth rate is now less than one-third that of the historically highest rate, which occurred in 1957, Ventura said.

In 1957, 96.3 out of every 1,000 teenage girls had a baby, compared with 26.6 of every 1,000 teen girls in 2013.

"In the old era, most teens who had a baby were married and you could support a family on the education you had from high school, so it was not as much of a concern," Ventura said.

But by the late 1980s, teen pregnancy began to be seen as a detriment to a young woman's career development and her ability to contribute to a two-income family, she said.

That's why a brief, but steep, increase in teen birth rates between 1986 and 1991 -- culminating in a 61.8 per 1,000 rate of teen parenthood -- created much concern among advocates of family planning, who see the recent decline as a great achievement.

"These historic declines in teen pregnancy and births truly represent one of the nation's great success stories over the past two decades," Albert said.

Albert chalked up the declining teen birth rate to the "magic combination of less sex and more contraception."

Teenagers have access to and are using effective methods of contraception, Ventura said. They often will even combine two separate types of contraception, such as using a spermicidal lubricant with a condom.

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