Teen Birth Rate Rises
Bad news. A decade long trend of reductions in the teen birth rate is reversing:
After falling steadily for more than a decade, the birth rate for American teenagers jumped last year, federal health officials reported yesterday, a sharp reversal in what has been one of the nation's most celebrated social and public health successes.
The birth rate rose by 3 percent between 2005 and 2006 among 15-to-19-year-old girls, after plummeting 34 percent between 1991 and 2005, the National Center for Health Statistics reported.
This is concerning," said Stephanie J. Ventura, who heads the center's reproductive statistics branch. "It represents an interruption of 14 years of steady decline. Now unexpectedly we have an increase of 3 percent, which is a significant increase."
Ventura said it is too soon to know whether the increase was an aberration or the beginning of a trend. But she said the magnitude of the rise, especially after many years of decline, is worrisome.
"This early warning should put people on alert to look at the programs that are being used to see what works," Ventura said.
. . .
Other experts said many factors could be playing a role. It could be, for example, that complacency has set in, or that the increase reflects of a broader trend cutting across all ages. Birth rates have also increased for women in their 20s, 30s and early 40s.
The teen birth rate rose sharply between 1986 and 1991, when it hit an all-time high of 61.8 births per 1,000 girls. The increase led to a massive campaign to counter the trend, and the rates of both teenage sexual activity and teen births began falling steadily every year. Locally, teen birth rates followed that trend, plummeting between the 1990s and 2005.
This summer, however, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the long decline in teenage sexual activity appeared to have stalled nationally, raising fears that it could presage an increase in teen births.
The most recent data come from birth certificates nationwide. While the birth rate among 10-to-14-year-old girls continued to fall, the rate for those ages 15 to 19 increased from 40.5 per 1,000 girls to 41.9 births per 1,000 in 2006. [Read the Full Report]
"It's a pretty astounding increase," John Santelli, who studies teen health issues at Columbia University. "It's really a sea change, since it's been going down and getting better for so long."
Advocates noted that despite the 14-year decline, U.S. teens are still far more likely to get pregnant and have children than those in other developed countries, and teenage mothers and their children are far more likely to live in poverty.
"The vast majority of teenage mothers never finish high school," said Sarah Brown of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. "Teen pregnancy and child care is directly related to poverty, both for the mother and the child. This should be a wake-up call for a renewed focus on preventing teen pregnancy."
The increase was greatest among black teens, whose birth rate rose 5 percent between 2005 and 2006, reaching 63.7 per 1,000 teens. That was particularly disappointing because black teens had previously made the greatest gains, with the rate among 15-to-17-year-olds dropping by more than half.
"There had been dramatic, dramatic improvement in that community," Brown said. "All of us had hoped it would continue to decline."
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