Teen pregnancy rates have declined significantly
AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:
Teen pregnancies are on the decline across the country. A new analysis by the research group Child Trends shows that among female teens, birth rates have gone down 77% in the past 30 years. Jennifer Manlove is a researcher with Child Trends and a co-author of the analysis. She joins us now. Welcome to the program.
JENNIFER MANLOVE: Thank you.
RASCOE: So a 77% decline in teen births sounds very significant. What else did your research find?
MANLOVE: We did find that a generation ago teen childbearing was much more normative than it is now. In 1991, an estimated one-quarter of all 15-year-olds were to have a birth before they reached age 20. And this declined to 6% in 2021, which is dramatic, and as you said, more than 75% decline. We also find the declines happened among all race/ethnic groups, among younger and older teens, and across all states. And the declines have been sustained and even accelerated recently.
RASCOE: I know that you said that birth rates had declined for teens among all races and ethnicities, but did you find any differences in birth rates, like, say, among the Black and Hispanic communities?
MANLOVE: Yes, we did. Despite all our good news, racial and ethnic disparities still exist. And we found higher birth rates for Black, Hispanic and Indigenous teens than for others. And we see that these disparities are due to a history of systemic racism in the United States. This has led to mistrust in health care, limited access to reproductive health and reduced economic opportunities.
RASCOE: How big is the difference, like, between Hispanic and Black communities and Indigenous communities compared to white teens?
MANLOVE: Their birth rates are still about 1 1/2 times the national average and are more than double the rates for white teens.
RASCOE: OK. But overall, there has been this major decline. What is driving this?
MANLOVE: The most immediate reasons behind the declines in teen births are delays in sex and increases in contraceptive use, particularly the use of the most effective contraceptive methods. For example, teens in the late 2010s were five times more likely to use IUDs and implants than teens in the late 2000s. But recently, there have also been declines in sexual activity among high school students.
RASCOE: How does child poverty play a role in this? Like, is teen birth declining because child poverty is already on the decline? Or has child poverty gone down because of a decrease in teen births?
MANLOVE: Well, we do know that both child poverty and teen pregnancy have been declining together. Youth who grow up in poverty and in economically disadvantaged communities are at a much higher risk of a teen birth. In the past, researchers have assumed that there's a large impact of having a teen birth on subsequent poverty and poverty of children. However, once you control for economic environment growing up, there is much less of an independent impact of teen pregnancy on poverty.
Really, delaying births among teens in poverty only improves their well-being if those teens have the supports they need to increase their education, find a high-paying, high-quality job and improve their economic opportunities. So this decline in teen births is a huge public health win still for teens' families and their children. It means that fewer teens are becoming parents before they want to.
RASCOE: So how do you think the Dobbs decision, which has allowed states to greatly limit abortion - how do you think that affects this trend? Will it affect this trend?
MANLOVE: State-level restrictions that resulted from the Dobbs decision could disproportionately affect teens. Teens represent only 6% of all pregnancies, but a higher percentage of teen pregnancies end in abortion than pregnancies to women of older ages. Also, teens learn about their pregnancies later, they face parent consent laws, and they also have more difficulty traveling to access care or to receive medication abortion. Thus there could be an uptick in teen births with these more restrictive state laws.
RASCOE: Jennifer Manlove is a researcher with Child Trends. Thank you so much for joining us.
MANLOVE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.