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Historic decline seen in teen birth rate

New evidence from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Wednesday points to the ongoing and significant drop in the US teen birth rate over the past 20-plus years.

The birth rate for teenagers ages 15-19 was 26.6 births per 1,000 in 2013, down 57 percent from the rate of 61.8 births per 1,000 in 1991, according to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.

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The CDC attributes the 20-year decline to decreased sexual activity among teens, as well as more frequent use of contraception. As you would imagine, this historic decline in the teen birth rate has looked differently across states, races, and age. The CDC report highlights some important ways in how this decline hasn’t played out quite evenly.

The birth rates for the 10-14, 15-17, and 18-19 age brackets were all at record lows in 2013. The decline has been much greater, though, for girls 15-17. The 12.3 birth per 1,000 rate for teens 15-17 fell 68 percent since 1991, compared with 50 percent for teens 18-19, whose rate is 47.3 births per 1,000.

The teen birth rate has declined across all racial groups since 1991, but the steepest have been recorded among Asian-Pacific Islander teens (64 percent) and non-Hispanic black teens (63 percent). Asian-Pacific Islander teens currently have the lowest birth rate overall (9.7 per 1,000), while Hispanic teens have the highest (46.3 percent). Still, the rate for Hispanic teens has fallen the fastest since 2007 (39 percent), and the CDC notes that birth rates across most racial and Hispanic ethnicity groups is narrowing.

States have taken different approaches to reducing teen births, with differing results. Every state has seen a decline since 1991, but rates continue to be lowest in the Northeastern states and higher in the South. New England states all had teen birth rates under 20 per 1,000, with New Hampshire’s the lowest at 13.8. Eight states had rates above 40 per 1,000, with New Mexico recording the highest at 47.5.

The good news is somewhat tempered by the fact that the teen birth rate in the United States still ranks among some of the highest for developed countries.

While countries like Denmark, Switzerland, and Japan recorded teen birth rates under 5 per 1,000, the United States finds itself among seven of 31 countries highlighted by the CDC with rates exceeding 20 births per 1,000 teens.

Though the United States lags behind other countries, the CDC says the progress made since 1991 has amounted to 4 million fewer teen births. Citing research from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, the CDC says this also saved taxpayers an estimated $12 billion alone in 2010 from costs associated with government-funded health care, child welfare, and higher incarceration rates of teen mothers.

And fewer babies born to teen mothers, the CDC points out, is good for other reasons. Teen motherhood comes with a higher health risk for the baby, educational limits for the mother, and limited resources, since about 90 percent of teen births are to unmarried mothers.

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