Most U.S. states saw a dramatic drop in their teen birth rates between 2007 and 2011, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control. The national rate of teen births declined by 25 percent, and some individual states saw their rates drop by 30 percent or more:
Every single state except for West Virginia and North Dakota showed some kind of decline in the number of teenagers giving birth. But significant regional disparities remain. The CDC found that the lowest rates of teen births are in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont — which each have rates under 17 births per 1,000 teen girls — while Arkansas and Mississippi have the highest rates at about 50 per 1,000. Overall, the highest rates of teen births continue to be concentrated in the South.
The CDC’s research builds on previous data that showed the United States’ teen pregnancy rate has plunged to record lows since 1991, largely because of adolescents’ expanded access to contraception. “Credit goes to teens themselves who are clearly making better decisions about sex, contraception, and their future,” Bill Albert, the chief program officer of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, told the Associated Press.
But those type of preventative health resources aren’t equally available to teens in every part of the country. Over the past decade, teen pregnancy rates have consistently been higher in Southern states that don’t provide students with adequate sexual health instruction. Since abstinence-only courses often present misleading information about contraception, a full 60 percent of young adults underestimate birth control’s effectiveness and are more likely to skip it because they don’t believe it will make a difference. And teens in rural areas still struggle to access contraception, partly because there are fewer health clinics in less populous places and partly because a societal stigma surrounding teen sexuality still pervades conservative communities.
Unfortunately, this correlation isn’t limited to teen pregnancy and teen births. Southern states that don’t offer comprehensive sex ed classes also have the highest rates of STDs.
As the United States has continued to grapple with addressing its teen pregnancy rates — which are higher than the rates in any other developed nation — there has been some debate over the best tactic to effectively lower the rate of unintended teen births. Public health campaigns to dissuade adolescents from becoming pregnant typically rely on shame-based tactics that tell young women they will be failures if they become pregnant. But there’s evidence to suggest that providing youth with the support they need through community programs, rather than shaming them about their sexuality, is actually a more effective way to encourage them to make healthy sexual choices.