Declining teen pregnancy rates have been noticed and applauded here before on The PediaBlog. Still, as we discovered nearly two years ago, not all the news is good:
The bad news? The U.S. continues to lead all industrialized western nations in the number of teen pregnancies. (Switzerland has the lowest rate among developed nations — far lower than the U.S. Among all nations worldwide, Mexico and Subsaharan Africa top the list.)
The teen birth rate dropped 9% from 2013 to 2014, reveals the annual report published in the journal Pediatrics. This continues a historic decline and marks a 61% decrease since 1991, bringing the birth rate for women ages 15 to 19 down to 24.2 births per 1,000 women. The infant mortality rate also dropped 2.3% in 2014, reaching an all-time low of 5.82 infant deaths per 1,000 live births.
A new study published this month in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology reminds us that teen pregnancies hurt young mothers, their infants, and society in several ways:
Teenage mothers are more likely to have pregnancy-related disorders such as preeclampsia, preterm deliveries, growth-restricted neonates, and stillbirths. Children and adolescents of teenage mothers are more likely to experience poor nutrition, abuse, academic difficulties, developmental delay, depression, early sexual activity, and higher rates of criminal activity. Disproportionally high rates of poverty exist for teenage mothers. In 2010, 48% of teenage mothers lived below the poverty line. Educational achievement rates were low as well, and only 51% achieved high school diplomas by age 22 years (including high school equivalency certificates) as compared with 89% of their peers. Teen pregnancy has a major effect on the national economy and cost taxpayers in the United States approximately $9.4 billion in 2010.
Ronnie Cohen says researchers have found geographical clusters with high teen birth rates:
The clusters tended to be in southern states, with three of the top 10 in Texas, but they also popped up in Denver, Colorado; Fresno, California; and Yakima, Washington.
Poverty and lack of education have long been the key problems influencing teen birth rates, but the study suggests that other factors, like the availability of reliable sex education and access to the health care system, may also come into play in creating the clusters of high teen birth rates. Clustering is more likely to occur in southern states; northern states generally have lower teen birth rates. What is clear is that preventing teen pregnancies from happening in the first place should be the essential goal of any policy put forth. Alleviating poverty, improving our public education system (and providing effective sex and science education), and expanding access to health care, including contraception strategies, are essential targets for a satisfactory solution to a problem that affects all of us.