Adolescent pregnancy in the United States is actually at an all-time low. But compare that number to other developed countries and it seems that America has a lot more work to do. Overall, the number of adolescent pregnancies in the United States has declined significantly over the last 20 years. In 2016, the birth rate was 29 per 1,000 girls ages 15 to 19. Today, this number has declined further to 24 births per 1,000 girls aged 15-to-19. Yet, here’s where a few other countries are at:
- The European Union is at 11
- Canada is at 10
- Japan is at 4
In fact, the United States continues to have the highest adolescent pregnancy rate compared to 21 similar countries.
Adolescent Pregnancy is at its Lowest
According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the adolescent pregnancy rate has been falling by half since 1991. Although the numbers are still somewhat high in certain populations of people, generally it has gone down significantly.
In fact, the birth rate for teens aged 15 to 19 declined 41% between 2006 and 2014, dropping down to 24.2 live births per 1,000 females, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is the lowest it has ever been since researchers started keeping track of the number in 1940. More recently, experts saw the greatest decline in Hispanic and black teens. Rates fell 51% for Hispanic teens and 44% for black teens. Adolescent pregnancy rates also fell for Caucasian teens by 35%.
What Caused This Decline?
Why has the number dropped so dramatically over the last 30 years? Researchers have found that there are two primary reasons for the reduction in pregnancies among American teens. These are:
1. Adolescents are having sex less often. Although it’s easy to think that teens are sexually explorative and experimental, many teens are delaying sexual activity – according to research. Studies show that they are being more careful and making better choices. According to the CDC, about 53% of teens reported in 2013 that they have never had sex. Compare this to 1991 when only 46% of teens reported that they’ve never had sex. It appears that some teens are waiting longer to have sex perhaps until they are better prepared to face the responsibilities that come with it.
2. Adolescents are using effective contraceptives. If teens aren’t waiting to have sex, then they are using effective contraceptives. One form of effective contraceptive is the IUD. For instance, the increased use of IUD’s among adolescents have prevented many pregnancies. IUD’s and other implants are a long-lasting and reversible form of contraceptives. These contraceptives are highly effective with a very low rate of failure. Furthermore, they only need to be inserted once for long-lasting protection against pregnancy. According to research, adolescents have increased their use of the IUD and other implants from 1% in 2005 to 7% in 2013..
As mentioned above, having sex comes with responsibility, especially if it leads to pregnancy. Furthermore, when a teen becomes pregnant, they are vulnerable to a great deal of stress, and typically, teens are not properly equipped to handle the large task of parenting. They lack the financial, psychological, and emotional stability. This creates risks for both the teen and the child. Yet, research indicates that one in every seven female teens will have a child before the age of 20.
U.S. Compared to Other Countries
There are a few reasons why America is falling behind compared to other countries when it comes to adolescent pregnancy rates. For instance, other countries have more accessible birth control options, making it easier for teens to stay protected if they choose to have sex. Income inequality also plays a role, and so does different attitudes toward sex.
For instance, in the Netherlands (where the teen birth rate is 8 times lower than the U.S.) parents are much more open when it comes to sex. In the U.S., on the other hand, parents tend to fear teen sexuality. In the Netherlands:
- parents say that they permit it so that they can control it
- adolescents are more likely to have their first sexual experience at home and with their parents knowing about it
- teens are more likely to use condoms
To assist families in the U.S., there may be more education that’s needed on sexual activity and the responsibility that having sex requires. In fact, researchers have found that one of the primary reasons for such a low birth rate in the Netherlands is due to pregnancy prevention efforts and education.
U.S. Pregnancy Prevention and Education
Sadly, not all states require education on sex and its risks and responsibilities. In fact, the percentage of schools that teach sexual education has actually declined across the country.
- Only 24 states have a mandate that they teach sexual education in schools. States like California, Nevada, and Oregon.
- Only 18 states require that teens and young adults get information about contraceptives. States like New Mexico, Illinois, and California.
Researchers have found that what doesn’t work is mandating a teen to pledge that they won’t have sex. This has proven to be largely ineffective except in communities that are highly religious. In fact, even for those teens who do pledge, because they never received education on condoms or sexually transmitted diseases, they are more likely to become pregnant or contract a disease if they break their pledge. Some studies show that where abstinence is emphasized over education, there are higher teen birth rates. Research shows that education is the most effective. In fact, one study found that teens who received comprehensive sexual education were 60% less likely to get pregnant.
Tips for Parents of Sexually Active Adolescents
If you are a parent or caregiver, consider these tips:
- Talk to your teen about the risks of sexual activity, including health risks as well as adolescent pregnancy.
- Encourage your teen to use contraceptives if they are sexually active.
- Check in with yourself about your level of comfort in talking about sex.
If you feel uncomfortable, have another adult whom you and your teen trusts to have this important conversation. Discussing this topic openly can keep your teen healthy, happy, and without child until they’re ready to be a parent.