Birth rates among black and Latina teenagers have fallen dramatically over the past decade, but these young women are still often three times as likely as their white peers to have babies, a new government report finds.
It varies a lot across the U.S. and even county by county, the team at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. And the reasons are sadly familiar: high unemployment rates, parents who have less education, and high poverty levels.
“During 1991–2014, the birth rate among teens aged 15–19 years in the United States declined 61 percent, from 61.8 to 24.2 births per 1,000, the lowest rate ever recorded,” the CDC team wrote in their report.
From 2006 to 2014, the teen birth rate declined 41 percent. It plummeted by 51 percent among Latinas, by 44 percent among blacks and 35 percent among whites.
“Nonetheless, in 2014, the teen birth rate remained approximately twice as high for Hispanic and black teens compared with white teens, and geographic and socioeconomic disparities remain, irrespective of race/ethnicity,” the CDC team wrote.
U.S. birth rates are down overall. Experts say recent economic recessions are in part to blame. And the teen rate fell even more than overall rates.
The CDC’s Lisa Romero and colleagues looked at national survey data and reports on births, as well as county-level information to see if they could see patterns that help explain why girls in one community get pregnant while those in another do not.
In some states, like New Jersey, teen birth rates were lower than the national average for everyone but still much higher — six to seven times higher — for blacks and Hispanics than for whites.
In states such as Arkansas, the rates were much higher for everyone.
This means health officials everywhere must do more to make sure teenagers know the risks of pregnancy, and know how to prevent it, whether through abstinence or good use of birth control.
The CDC says most teens do not use the most effective methods of birth control and many other researchers have shown that abstinence-only education does not reduce teen pregnancy rates.
And while more than 40 percent of all teenagers have had sex, another CDC report finds huge variations in what schools are teaching kids.
An average of 77 percent of schools teach kids about abstinence but just 64 percent teach teens about how to get valid information about pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. In some states, just 23 percent of schools provide this information, according to a 2015 CDC report.
Only 40 percent of schools teach the importance of using condoms consistently and correctly – and condoms are the only way to prevent both STDs and pregnancy during sex.
Only 23 percent of schools teach kids how to use a condom. Just 64 percent teach the benefits of limiting the number of sexual partners.
Romero’s team said their findings show the importance of better sex education for teenagers.
Researchers at the Guttmacher Institute, which focuses on sexual health matters, have found that half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended and that teenagers do not use the most effective methods of birth control.
And despite the decreases, the U.S.teenage birth rate is still seven times higher than rates in other wealthy countries.