My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. It’s good to see some good news! Here you go:
Kids having kids has long been a societal problem that leads to so many other problems. The pregnancies are almost always unplanned and the task of raising the child falls disproportionately on teen moms. The moms often struggle to advance their education or start a gainful career and rely heavily on taxpayer support. The children of teen parents enter the world at a disadvantage to those born to parents further along in life. It has been exhaustively documented that it is generally better for parents, kids and society as a whole if people wait until they are emotionally and financially mature before conceiving.
Considering the generational impact of kids having kids, the great news is teen birth rate in the U.S. has declined to a record low according to a report from the National Center for Health Statistics. At 24.2 births per 1,000 teen girls, teenagers are having babies at the lowest rate since the government began tracking in 1940.
The overall rate has steadily declined since 1990 with a slight uptick in 2006. Since then, the teen birth rate is down an astounding 42 percent with declines in the teen birth rate among non-whites leading the way. The decline among Hispanic teens was the greatest at 50 percent, with Asian and Pacific Islanders next at 48 percent, then black teens at 44 percent, and finally white teens at 36 percent.
Also, the data indicates the decline in the teen birth rate is accelerating. The teen birth rate among teens in the younger than 15-17 age group has declined at a faster rate (50 percent) than that of older teens (39 percent). This indicates that younger teens are even less likely to have babies than their older peers.
The reasons for this decline are revealing. The dramatic decline in the teen birth rate is not a result of an increase in abortions. In fact, abortions are also down by nearly the same percentage over the same period. The simple answer for the decline in the teen birth rate is that teens are getting pregnant less. The teen pregnancy rate has also nearly halved over the same timeframe. Teens are getting pregnant less because of better contraception and because they are having less sex. Why? The answers are revealing.
While the overall rate of contraceptive use by teens has remained stubbornly stable for years, the use of more effective methods has increased. In particular, a Centers for Disease Control analysis found the use of long-acting reversible contraceptives like IUDs and implants increased by almost 1,800 percent in the past decade. These contraceptives, while generally more effective than some other forms of contraception, also negate the need for a teen to both affirmatively use contraception and use it properly. Unfortunately, these contraceptives also leave the teens completely vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases. Young people aged 15-24 account for half of all new STDs and 1 in 4 sexually active adolescent girls have an STD like chlamydia or gonorrhea.
Teenagers are also simply having less sex. According to the National Survey of Family Growth Data, the percentage of unmarried teenage girls who reported they have had sex declined from 51 percent in 1988 to 44 percent in 2013. Part of the reason for that may be economic. Birth rates tend to decline during down economies and the U.S. economy has been in a funk for a decade.
But there also appears to be a cultural shift occurring that discourages teen sex that is being driven partially by pop culture and television. According to a report by Brookings, reality shows like “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” may be responsible for almost a third of the decline in the teen birth rate since they started airing. The notion is that as teens see the real struggles of a teen raising a child, they are less likely to put themselves into a position of being a teen parent.
Whatever the causes, the sustained and significant decline in the teen pregnancy and birth rates is a positive and welcome development of this millennium. Kudos to today’s teens for being more responsible with their sex lives than their parents were.