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For the first time in more than a decade, the nation’s teen pregnancy rate rose 3% in 2006, reflecting increases in teen birth and abortion rates of 4% and 1%, respectively.
These new data from the Guttmacher Institute are especially noteworthy because they provide the first documentation of what experts have suspected for several years, based on trends in teens’ contraceptive use—that the overall teen pregnancy rate would increase in the mid-2000s following steep declines in the 1990s and a subsequent plateau in the early 2000s. The significant drop in teen pregnancy rates in the 1990s was overwhelmingly the result of more and better use of contraceptives among sexually active teens. However, this decline started to stall out in the early 2000s, at the same time that sex education programs aimed exclusively at promoting abstinence—and prohibited by law from discussing the benefits of contraception—became increasingly widespread and teens’ use of contraceptives declined.
“After more than a decade of progress, this reversal is deeply troubling,” says Heather Boonstra, Guttmacher Institute senior public policy associate. “It coincides with an increase in rigid abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, which received major funding boosts under the Bush administration. A strong body of research shows that these programs do not work. Fortunately, the heyday of this failed experiment has come to an end with the enactment of a new teen pregnancy prevention initiative that ensures that programs will be age-appropriate, medically accurate and, most importantly, based on research demonstrating their effectiveness.”
The teen pregnancy rate declined 41% between its peak, in 1990 (116.9 pregnancies per 1,000 women aged 15–19), and 2005 (69.5 per 1,000). Teen birth and abortion rates also declined, with births dropping 35% between 1991 and 2005 and teen abortion declining 56% between its peak, in 1988, and 2005. But all three trends reversed in 2006. In that year, there were 71.5 pregnancies per 1,000 women aged 15–19. Put another way, about 7% of teen girls became pregnant in 2006.
Just as the long-term declines in teen pregnancy occurred among all racial and ethnic groups through 2005, the reversal in 2006 also involved all demographic groups:
- Among black teens, the pregnancy rate declined by 45% (from 223.8 per 1,000 in 1990 to 122.7 in 2005), before increasing to 126.3 in 2006.
- Among Hispanic teens, the pregnancy rate decreased by 26% (from 169.7 per 1,000 in 1992 to 124.9 in 2005), before rising to 126.6 in 2006.
- Among non-Hispanic white teens, the pregnancy rate declined 50% (from 86.6 per 1,000 in 1990 to 43.3 per 1,000 in 2005), before increasing to 44.0 in 2006.
Because the decline among black teens was so much greater than that among Hispanics, the long-standing gap between the two groups has disappeared. However, the gap between white teens and teens of color is as large as ever.
State-level data are not yet available for 2006, but varied widely in 2005. The highest pregnancy rates were in New Mexico (93 per 1,000 women 15–19), Nevada (90), Arizona (89), Texas (88) and Mississippi (85), and the lowest rates were in New Hampshire (33), Vermont (40), Maine (48), Minnesota (47) and North Dakota (46). Teen pregnancy rates declined in every state between 1988 and 2000, and in every state except North Dakota between 2000 and 2005.
“It is too soon to tell whether the increase in the teen pregnancy rate between 2005 and 2006 is a short term fluctuation, a more lasting stabilization or the beginning of a significant new trend, any of which would be of great concern,” says Lawrence Finer, Guttmacher’s director of domestic research. “Either way, it is clearly time to redouble our efforts to make sure our young people have the information, interpersonal skills and health services they need to prevent unwanted pregnancies and to become sexually healthy adults.”
Click here for the full report, “U.S. Teenage Pregnancies, Births and Abortions: National and State Trends and Trends by Race and Ethnicity.”
Click here for Facts on American Teens’ Sexual and Reproductive Health.