Teen births have been steadily declining for half a century and have dramatically dropped over the past two decades, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) examining the trend. Overall, the birth rate among young women between the ages of 15 and 19 fell by a staggering 57 percent between 1991 and 2013:
According to the government researchers, about four million fewer babies were born to teenagers as a result of that decline. Since low-income young mothers often need government programs like Medicaid and food stamps to help support their families, the CDC projects that the drop in births helped save billions of dollars. The new report estimates that $12 billion was saved in 2010 alone thanks to the 45 percent drop in the teen birth rate between 1991 and 2010.
The steepest declines in the teen birth rate appear to be occurring in the areas where it’s historically been the highest. Southern states — where the teen pregnancy rate has been significantly higher for years — have seen the largest drops, although there’s still a noticeable disparity between states in the South and states in the Northeast. Similarly, while teen births have declined across all racial groups, they’ve recently fallen the fastest among Hispanic women, who currently have the highest rate.
The CDC has been observing this positive trend over the past several years; the pregnancy, abortion, and birth rates among U.S. teenagers continue to hit new historic lows, and public health experts have credited that success story largely to teens who are making responsible choices about their sexual health.
However, it’s not entirely clear what exactly caused the behavior change contributing to the steep drop in births between 2007 and 2013. Experts have suggested it might come down to a “perfect storm” of several factors: the economic downturn that may have led to more cautious decisions; the increase in teens using more reliable forms of birth control; the proliferation of effective comprehensive sex ed programs; and the rise of TV shows like 16 & Pregnant that depict the difficulty of raising a child as a young adult.
There is one factor that researchers are comfortable ruling out: abortion. It’s true that teen pregnancy rates don’t necessarily match up with teen birth rates because not every young women will carry the pregnancy to term. But the sharp drop in births is because teens aren’t getting pregnant in the first place, not because they’re increasingly choosing to end their pregnancies. “Abortion hasn’t played a role because abortion rates have been falling faster than the birth rate, and the declines in abortion go back to the late 1980s,” Stephanie Ventura, a senior demographer for the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics and the author of the report, told HealthDay News.