A National Strategy to Prevent Teen Pregnancy: Annual Report 1997-98. Trends in Teen Births & Pregnancies


Declining Teen Birth Rates. According to several reports from HHS's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), teen birth rates have decreased nationally and in all states since 1991.

Birth rates for teenagers 15-19 years declined between 1991 and 1996 in all states and the District of Columbia, echoing the national trends during this time. (Declines in three states were not statistically significant.) The reductions in state-specific teen birth rates reflect, and in many cases, exceed those reported for the country as a whole. Between 1991 and 1996:

  • The U.S. teen birth rate fell 12 percent.
  • Teen birth rates fell by 12 percent or more in 28 states.
  • Teen birth rates dropped by 16 percent or more in 13 states.
  • Declines in four states exceeded 20 percent.

Trends by Age. Though teenage childbearing patterns differ considerably by age, birth rates for all age groups have declined in the 1990's, partly reversing the 24 percent rise in the overall birth rate from 1986 to 1991.

  • The U.S. birth rate for teenagers in 1996 was 54.4 live births per 1,000 women aged 15-19 years, down 4 percent from 1995 and 12 percent from 1991.
  • The birth rate for teens aged 15-17 was 13 percent lower than in 1991. Half of the recent decline occurred between 1995 and 1996.
  • The birth rate for older teens 18-19 years dropped 9 percent between 1991 and 1996; the decline between 1995 and 1996 was 3 percent.

The figure below illustrates the trends in teenage birth rates from 1980 to 1996, offering a comprehensive picture of the last two decades.

Trends by Race. Birth rates for black teens have dropped sharply. The largest declines, measured by race, since 1991 were black women.

line chart

  • The overall birth rate for black teenagers 15-19 years fell 21 percent between 1991 and 1996.
  • The birth rate for young black teenagers, 15-17 years, declined 23 percent between 1991 and 1996, while the birth rate for older black teenagers, 18-19 years, fell 16 percent.

Despite the sharp decline in the birth rates for black teenagers, their birth rates and the birth rates for Hispanic teenagers remain higher than for other groups. The birth rate for Hispanic teens declined in 1996 after being stable through the early 1990's. The declines among teen women's birth rates are outpacing the declines among birth rates for women of all ages.

Data Collection and Analysis. Accurate and timely reporting of trends and patterns of teen birth rates is based on information reported on the birth certificates for all babies born in the United States. This information is provided by state health departments to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) through the Vital Statistics Cooperative Program. NCHS and the states share the costs for collecting and processing the data.

Teen birth data from the vital statistics system have been reported more quickly in the last year and a half. NCHS has inaugurated a new statistical series, taking advantage of faster data collection and processing at the state level and by NCHS.

The preliminary file provides snapshot information based on a very large sample. Data from the 1996 file, based on 94 percent of U.S. births, were published in September 1997, just nine months after the end of the year. Findings from the preliminary 1995 and 1996 files (published October 1995 and September 1996, respectively) were validated with the final birth file (published in June 1997 and June 1998).

For more information on the collection and analysis of teen birth data, see Appendix I.

Trends in Teen Pregnancies

Declining Teen Pregnancy Rates. The estimated teen pregnancy rate for 1994 is 108 pregnancies per thousand women aged 15-19 years; this reflects an 8 percent decline from 1991.2 While this is the most recent national level data, in June 1998, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a report presenting the latest data showing adolescent pregnancy rates by state for 1992-1995. In each of the 42 states (plus District of Columbia) with available data, adolescent pregnancy rates for females aged 15-19 decreased between 1992 and 1995. This report presents the first data to show that fewer teens became pregnant during that time frame. In the same time period, teen abortion rates also declined in 40 of 43 reporting states.

According to the report, pregnancy rates varied widely by state. In 1995, state pregnancy rates ranged from 56 per 1,000 15 to 19-year-old adolescents in North Dakota, to 117 per 1,000 in Nevada. The pregnancy rate in the District of Columbia, also measured in the report, was 230 per 1,000. Decreases in the pregnancy rates ranged from 3 percent in Arkansas to 20 percent in Vermont.

Decreases in teen pregnancy rates were greater among blacks than among whites, although teen pregnancy rates remained higher for blacks than for whites. Pregnancies are estimated as the sum of live births, legally induced abortions, and estimated fetal losses such as spontaneous abortion or stillbirth among adolescents 19 and younger.

States not reporting data to CDC and thus not included in today's report are Alaska, California, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Oklahoma. Reporting of these data to CDC is voluntary by states.3