April 29, 2016

Why is the teen birth rate falling?

U.S. teen birth rate has fallen dramatically over time

The teen birth rate in the U.S. is at a record low, dropping below 25 births per 1,000 teen females for the first time since the government began collecting consistent data on births to teens ages 15-19, according to a new report from the National Center for Health Statistics.

Nonwhite and younger teens have led the way in declining birth rates in recent years. Since the most recent peak in 2007, the birth rate among all teens has dropped by 42%. The declines among Hispanic (50%), Asian or Pacific Islander (48%) and black (44%) teens have outpaced this national average, while the decline among white teens (36%) has been somewhat more modest. Birth rates among younger teens ages 15-17 have also fallen faster – dropping by 50%, compared with a 39% decline among older teens ages 18 and 19.

Birth rates among nonwhite teens declined more than among whitesAlthough the teen birth rates among blacks and Hispanics have fallen faster than among whites, the racial disparity in teen childbearing remains wide.  Hispanic and black teens ages 15-19 had birth rates at least twice as high as the rate among white teens in 2014. Asians and Pacific Islanders had the lowest teen birth rate – less than half the rate among whites.

The peak for teen births was 96.3 per 1,000 in 1957, in the midst of the Baby Boom, after having risen dramatically following the end of World War II. But the composition of teen mothers has changed drastically since then. Back in 1960, most teen mothers were married – an estimated 15% of births to mothers ages 15-19 were to unmarried teens. Today, it has flipped: 89% of births are to unmarried mothers in that age group.

The teen birth rate has been on a steep decline since the early 1990s, and that trend accelerated during the recession of 2007-09 and the years following, reversing a brief uptick that began in 2006. What’s behind the recent trends? One possible factor is the economy: A Pew Research Center analysis tied the declining birth rate to the flailing economy. And birth rates for teens fell faster than they did for all females ages 15-44 from 2007 to 2014 (42% and 9% declines, respectively).

What else is contributing to the decline in teen birth rates? Less sex, use of more effective contraception and more information about pregnancy prevention.

Abortion, pregnancy rates have declined among teenagers in the U.S.For one thing, there has been a significant decline in the percentage of never-married teenage females who report that they have ever had sex, from 51% in 1988 to 44% in 2011-13, according to National Survey of Family Growth data. Furthermore, among never-married teens who have had sex, 79% of girls and 84% of boys used a contraceptive method the first time they had sex.

While the overall share of teens using contraception at first sex has not changed significantly, the use of some forms of highly effective contraceptive methods is increasing. The share of sexually active teen girls who have used emergency contraception (e.g., the morning-after pill) rose from 8% in 2002 to 22% in 2011-13. And a CDC analysis of the roughly 600,000 low-income teens who use a Title X Family Planning program for contraception found that the use of long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs), such as IUDs and implants – which are considered more effective than other means of contraception – rose from 0.4% in 2005 to 7.1% by 2013.

Pregnancy prevention programs and messages directed to teens may also have played a role. A 2014 Brookings report found that the MTV programs 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, reality TV shows that follow the struggles of teen mothers, may have contributed to up to a third of the decline in teen births from June 2009, when they began airing, through the end of 2010.

It’s worth noting that birth rate figures only include live births, and do not account for miscarriages, stillbirths or abortions. In 2009, the estimated pregnancy rate for teens was 65.3 pregnancies per 1,000 females ages 15-19 (36.4 among those ages 15-17 and 106.3 among those ages 18-19).

But teen pregnancy rates have fallen, too. Looking at data reaching back to 1976, the pregnancy rate peaked among teens ages 15-19 in 1990, at 116.8, and had fallen 44% by 2009. The abortion rate among females ages 15-19 has also fallen over roughly the same time period – from 43.5 per 1,000 female teens in 1988 to 16.3 in 2009. Of the roughly 700,000 pregnancies among teens in 2009, about 58% are estimated to have ended in live births, 25% in abortions and 17% in miscarriages or stillbirths.

Note: This post was originally published on April 21, 2014, and updated on April 29, 2016.

Correction: The analysis of the Title X Family Planning program was performed by the CDC’s Division of Reproductive Health, not the NCHS as originally indicated. This version has been corrected.

Topics: Birth Rate and Fertility, Teens and Youth

  1. Photo of Eileen Patten

    is a research analyst focusing on Hispanic, social and demographic trends at Pew Research Center.

  2. Photo of Gretchen Livingston

    is a senior researcher focusing on fertility and family demographics at Pew Research Center.

18 Comments

  1. sinnathamby sundaralingam5 months ago

    Education, school guidance and free availability of contraceptive are the main reason for the drop in teen birth rate. Education and responsibility make mothers leading to a planed parent hood making them responsible future citizens.

  2. Anonymous5 months ago

    How much, if any, of the decline might tie to the welfare reform measures that Clinton and Gingrich passed?

  3. Anonymous5 months ago

    A hopeful article indeed. Alas, from my perspective, “the heavy penetration of pornography in young men down to the age of 10” as mentioned by one of your respondents is indeed a causative factor and to that reality I would add the ‘slippage’ in parental controls in dealing with female teen pressure about the clothing they sometime elect to wear in public places.

    Both are causative factors which have been made more troublesome because of the erosion of the ‘family unit’, and abdicating parental child raising responsibilities to overworked and underpaid teachers . . . .

  4. Richard Steele5 months ago

    I am curious about the whole thought process of tracking teen births. I am less concerned about married couples who have children versus un-married. The assumption is that un-married teens births are unplanned. Is there some other assumptions behind the data gathering?

    1. Eileen Patten5 months ago

      Hi Richard,

      I found this study by the NCHS that speaks to your question somewhat. It finds that 77% of births to 15-19 year olds in 2006-2010 were unintended at conception. And it should be noted that this is what is reported by the mother at the time of the birth, so the rate would be even lower if one were to look at all pregnancies, some of which did not go to full term because the mother had an abortion, miscarried, etc, and possibly also if the question were asked at the time of conception vs. 9 months later at the time of birth.

  5. Alan Tegel5 months ago

    I agree with the others comments, and I also agree it would be interesting to factor abortions and miscarriage rates along the same time frame. However, I think one additional cause is the heavy penetration of pornography in young men down to the age of 10. This from a data approach would be harder to corelate, but if a guys need are being met by other means … Thus will drop the demand. I am not going to debate the other pros and cons of that topic … But given the fact the UK has put draconian laws in effect under the guise of protecting the children .. And Utah is pushing in a similar vain ….. There has to be some substance there. If you read a 2004 article about porn and men from Naomi Watts … Even back then guys said no to sex due to not wanting to deal with relationship aspects …. Food for thought ….

    1. Richard Lindberg5 months ago

      The last info graphic had the abortion detail. It dropped almost the same rate the birthrate.

  6. David Eberhardt2 years ago

    on another topic of ms patten’s:

    until the millenials struggle to defeat capitalism they will subject us to and themselves b subjectted to the same rotten system- the racism, the inequities, the violence, the republicans, etc. – so far- except maybe from Occupy- not a peep (chix to the slaughter

  7. Anthony2 years ago

    This research seems to ignore the impact of Plan “B” as availability has progressed from prescription to over the counter to “free: access for many teens throughout the nation. I recall an article that indicated a 200% increase in Plan “B” when it became available without a prescription and another 400% increase when it became available at no cost. I would argue that the increased access to Plan “B” is a large determinate in the reduced teen birth rates. A quick look at teen STD/STI rates shows a significant increase… indicating that Prevention Education may not be reducing the “Risky” behavior as much as we would like to think.

  8. Pam Rasch2 years ago

    These statistics are interesting and possibly encouraging since rates appear to be decreasing. I am interested to know if anyone has tracked what individual states are doing to prevent pregnancies, ie. sex ed, availability of pregnancy prevention methods, against the results achieved. I am finding each piece being tracked, but where is the integration of the data? Do you have any studies you could refer me to?

    1. Eileen Patten2 years ago

      Hi Pam,

      Thanks for your interest in my post. The Pew Research Center doesn’t look at policy decisions like this, but there are several organizations you may want to look into. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, for example, has a state fact sheet page (thenationalcampaign.org/resource…) and there may also be information in other NCPTP publications or from Planned Parenthood or the Guttmacher Institute regarding pregnancy trends and programs on the state level.

      -Eileen

  9. Janna2 years ago

    A contributing factor to the Hispanic teen birth rate could be the teen mother’s desire to create an ‘anchor baby’ — instant US citizenship conferred — if she, herself, is not ALREADY an ‘anchor baby’.

    1. Richard Simpkins5 months ago

      Then why are Hispanic teen pregnancies dropping so rapidly?

  10. john2 years ago

    You need to overlay abortions rates by year and category to get the full picture. With 56 million a year in the US its a major impact to facts.

    1. Eileen Patten2 years ago

      Hi John,

      I think your 56 million figure may be referring to the number of abortions since Roe v. Wade not the number of abortions in the past year. The Guttmacher Institute cites a figure of 53 million legal abortions from 1973 to 2011 (guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_a…). Note that this is among all women ages 15-44, not just teens.

      The abortion rate among females ages 15-19 has fallen over roughly the same time period as the pregnancy and birth rates—from 43.5 per 1,000 teens in 1988 to 16.3 in 2009.

      To see a long-term trend on teen abortion rates, see this CDC table, which has rates going back to 1976: cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db1…

      –Eileen

    2. Leslie2 years ago

      What “full picture” do you get? “…a major impact to facts.” What does that mean?

      1. Alana2 years ago

        The article focuses on birth rates, not pregnancy rates. They are two different things.
        Assuming that the number of births in the Hispanic community can be attributed to one factor (attempting to gain citizenship) may not be accurate. Traditional Hispanic familial structure is strong and beliefs about termination can be influenced by religious beliefs and familial support for the birth mom and baby. If these are the questions one wants answered, we need a study asking the reasons for choosing to become pregnant, whether to terminate, and factor in whether the mother and father are documented or not.

        1. Eileen Patten2 years ago

          Hi Alana,

          You’re right — the focus of this post is on birth rates and that’s the only number shown by race and ethnicity in the post. Here’s what the numbers look for pregnancy and abortion by race and ethnicity.

          In 2009, the pregnancy rate for Hispanic teens (100.1 per 1,000) was higher than among non-Hispanic white teens (42.6) but lower than that among non-Hispanic black teens (113.7).

          However, the abortion rate among Hispanic teens was lower than among black teens (17.5 vs. 40.3). The abortion rate among white teens is 9.6 per 1,000. Taken as a share of all pregnancies, Hispanic teens are less likely than other groups to end their pregnancies in abortion. About 17% of Hispanic teen pregnancies end in abortion, compared with 23% of white teen pregnancies and 35% of black teen pregnancies.

          (Source is CDC published table: cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db1…)

          To get at the issue of Hispanic beliefs about abortion, we do find that Hispanics overall (51%) are more likely than the general public (41%) to say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, though younger Hispanics ages 18-29 (43%) are less disapproving than older Hispanics (and they are in line with young people of all races and ethnicity — 43% of all adults ages 18-29 say abortion should be illegal). But note that this gets more at overall attitudes about the legality of abortion and not necessarily personal views about getting an abortion (we don’t have data on the latter). See this report for more detail on Hispanics’ view of abortion: pewhispanic.org/2012/04/04/v-pol….

          –Eileen