Teen birthrate hits a record low

New data shows the teen birthrate was lower than ever in 2011. You can thank contraception for that, experts say

Published February 11, 2013 5:59PM (EST)


The teenage birthrate in the United States fell to a record low in 2011, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers documented an 8 percent drop in teen births between 2010 and 2011, with just over 3 percent of 15- to 19-year-olds having babies during that period.

This is bad news for Teen Mom producers, but probably good news for everyone else.

Women in their 20s were also less likely to have babies than in previous years, and the birthrate among women in their their late 30s and early 40s actually increased, according to the report.

Researchers say that women in their 20s delaying motherhood, and the parallel trend of more women having kids in their 30s and 40s could be the result of a long-struggling economy. "The economy has declined, and that certainly is a factor that goes into people's decisions about having a child," CDC statistician Brady Hamilton, lead author of the new report, told Reuters Health.

"Women may say to themselves, ‘It's not a particularly good time right now … let's wait a little bit,'" he added.

But teenagers aren't famously pragmatic (or so I've heard), making it less likely that "now is not a good time" and financial planning factored heavily into the dramatic drop in teen births.

And that's where birth control comes in, thankyouverymuch.

Yes, birth control. Apparently it's good for something other than playing political football with.

"I think the main thing behind this [data] is increased contraceptive use, and better contraceptive use," Dr. Krishna Upadhya, who studies teen pregnancy at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore but was not involved in the new research, told Reuters Health.

She also credited programs and policies that give teens access to contraception through schools and health clinics with the shift. "It's definitely consistent with the trends that we've seen, and it's obviously good news overall," she said.

Case in point: New York City has worked to make it easier for teens to get birth control by giving out condoms at schools and making birth control and the morning-after pill available in some school clinics, a move that has resulted in a 27 percent decrease in teen births over the last decade.

While rates of teen pregnancy remain higher in New York City than national numbers, it has fallen at a sharper rate, experts say. And public heath advocates say that expanding the policies and programs that make birth control widely available will help reduce that number even further. But the most important thing is that teens know these programs exist, Estelle Raboni, director of Changing the Odds, an anti-teen pregnancy program at the Morris Heights Health Center in the Bronx, told the New York Daily News.

"Teens don’t always know about their rights. They don’t know they have access to those services,” she said.

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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