In the United States, teen pregnancy rates have been on the decline for decades.
From 2014 to 2015, the birth rate for 15-19 year-olds fell by 8%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This includes pregnancies that end with live birth as well as pregnancies that are aborted or end in miscarriage.
By 2016, teen birth rates continued to fall to an all-time low: just 20.3 births per 1,000 women, according to CNN. This was a 9% fall from numbers recorded in 2015.
All told, since 1991, teen pregnancy rates in the U.S. have dropped by a whopping 67%.
So, what are the reasons behind the decline?
3 Reasons Why Teen Pregnancy Rates Continue to Drop in the U.S.
Pregnancy rates among teenagers continue to drop in the United States. Despite this trend, the U.S. still has one of the highest percentages of teen pregnancy among developed countries. It ranks higher than both Canada and the United Kingdom, for instance.
As rates continue to fall, here are the main reasons why it’s happening.
1. Better Access to Birth Control
Overwhelmingly, health care experts attribute the drop in teen birth rates to better access to and use of birth control/contraceptives for teenagers.
It’s not that teenagers are having less sex – rather, they’re being safer and smarter when they do have sex. They’re able to access and use birth control correctly to prevent pregnancy.
This means less unintended pregnancies happen, which are unsurprisingly the most common type for teens. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), about 77% of teenage pregnancies are unplanned.
2. Better Education
HHS also credits school enrollment and engaged learning with a lower birthrate.
Students who perform well during their education, who have positive attitudes about school, and who participate in activities are less likely to get pregnant or father a baby.
The education level and age of family members when they had children affect teen birth rates, too.
Teens are less likely to get pregnant before age 20 if their mothers have some college education or had their children at a later age.
3. Better Opportunities
Wealth and economic factors also play a role in birthrates. Teens who live in wealthier communities with more employment opportunities are less likely to get pregnant than their peers with limited opportunities and low income.
Preventing Teen Pregnancy: How to Continue the Downward Trend
Most people agree that preventing teens from getting pregnant is healthy not only for the teens but also for the future of the country and its population.
Here are some general recommendations gleaned from experts and past initiatives to further lower teen birth rates.
1. Invest in Sex Education and Awareness for All Genders
According to ThinkProgress, many sex ed programs and campaigns focus on educating teenage girls without recognizing the role teen boys play in an unplanned pregnancy. This misses half the equation when it comes to sex ed, though. Both sexes must take responsibility for their actions, so it’s important to focus on educating both about prevention, contraception, and abstinence, and consequences.
2. Use Peer Mentoring
In order for teens to get educated about sex, they have to be able to have open dialogues with their teachers. However, many adults, especially parents, are uncomfortable with these types of conversations.
In a small South Carolina town once known for having the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the state, a major change came about partially because peer mentors volunteered to share wisdom with younger students. When both teens and their mentors feel comfortable having an open discussion, education is more effective.
3. Make Contraceptives More Widely Available
The South Carolina town in the previous example managed to reduce teen pregnancy so much, they now have one of the lowest teen birth rates in the state. One way they were able to get these results is through making contraception widely available.
Distribution of condoms is not allowed in schools, there, but local businesses stepped up so free contraception is available throughout the community. It makes a huge difference, especially to teens that are lower income, to be able to choose to protect themselves.
4. Bring the Community Together to Emphasize the Same Message
Furthermore, the entire South Carolina community agrees on the message they want to teach their teens about sex: Abstinence is best, and safe sex is second-best. Before the teenage pregnancy prevention program began, program leaders got the entire community on board, including parents and business owners. Their cooperation has been essential to the overall success of the endeavor.
Teen Pregnancy Statistics Are Getting Better, But There’s Still Room for Improvement
Pregnancy rates continue to drop nationwide, but there’s still work to be done. For example, the teen birth rate is higher among some ethnic groups due to disparities in income, education, and opportunities. Consider that, in 2015, the birth rate among black teens was two times higher than the birth rate among white teens.
Better resources and education are essential for lowering the numbers. Until then, many teens find themselves sucked into a cycle of poverty. To break the cycle, as the small town in South Carolina showcased, communities have to band together and agree on a strategy.