At the end of the third year of our National Strategy to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, the news continues to be good and getting better: Teen birth rates are still steadily declining, according to the latest data compiled from the Department's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). These declines cut across ages (both younger and older adolescents), states, races and ethnic groups; moreover, fewer teenagers are having second children.
Last year's report provided analyses through 1998 based on preliminary birth data.(1) This year we are happy to report that the preliminary results were validated with publication of the final data file for 1998, suggesting that the decade of the 1990s has been one of real success in reducing teen birth rates.(2) Moreover, rates continued to decline in 1999 based on preliminary data.(3) Our nation continues to move toward improving prevention efforts for this most vulnerable population.
Trends and variations in teen birth rates are based on information reported on the birth certificates of all babies born in the United States, provided to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) by the state health departments through the Vital Statistics Cooperative Program. NCHS and the states share costs for collecting and processing the data. The most recent analyses were based on more than 97 percent of all U.S. births through 1999. More information on the collection and reporting of teen birth data is presented in Appendix I.
Teen Birth Rates Continue to Fall. Both national and state-level teen birth rates have fallen steadily since 1991. For teenagers aged 15-19, the birth rate dropped 20 percent, from 62.1 births per 1,000 in 1991 to 49.6 in 1999, a record low. As of 1997, 49 states had declines that were statistically significant (Rhode Island's decline was the exception), as noted in last year's Report to Congress. However, this year we are happy to report that through 1998, all 50 states had reductions in their teen birth rates that were statistically significant.(2)
The 1990s: A Decade of Declining Teen Birth Rates. The NCHS figures show that from 1991 through the end of 1998, teen birth rates dropped 20 percent or more in 13 states, as well as in the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands. In five of these states, teen birth rates declined by more than 25 percent.
Record Lows Reverse Earlier Trends. A U.S. record low birth rate for younger teens (aged 15-17) by the end of 1999 essentially reversed the 27 percent increase in teen birth rates that occurred in the late 1980s.(2,3,4,5) Birth rates fell more for younger than for older teenagers. Rates differ substantially by age: in 1999, the rate for older teens (aged 18-19) was 80.2 per 1,000 women, more than two-and-a-half times the rate of 28.7 per 1,000 for the younger teens. The U.S. birth rate for teenagers aged 15-19 declined 3 percent from 1998 (when the rate was 51.1 per 1,000) to 1998, and 20 percent from 1991 to 1999.(3) The birth rate for teens aged 15-17 fell 6 percent between 1999 (when it was 30.9 per 1,000) and 1999, and 26 percent between 1991 (when it was 38.7 per 1,000) and 1999.(2,3,5) The rate for older teens aged 18-19 declined 15 percent since 1991 (94.4 per 1,000).
The birth rate for the youngest age group, 10-14 years, fell to 0.9 births per 1,000 in 1999, its lowest level in more than three decades (0.9 in 1967). Moreover, the number of births to this age group fell to 9,049, down 30 percent from its recent high in 1994 (12,901 births). The decline in the number of births is due entirely to the drop in the birth rate down from 1.4 per 1,000 in the early 1990s; whereas the number of girls aged 10-14 increased during this period
Drop in Births to Unmarried Teens. For the fourth consecutive year, birth rates for unmarried teenagers declined in 1998. Since 1994, the rate for unmarried teens 15-17 years has fallen 16 percent, and the rate for those 18-19 has dropped 8 percent. However, despite these declines in birth rates, the proportion of births to unmarried teenagers continued to increase in 1998 and 1999: non-marital births accounted for 88 percent of births to girls aged 15-17, and for 74 percent of births to young women aged 18-19. These proportional increases in non-marital births reflect a greater decline in total teen births than in non-marital teen births.
Decline in Birth Rates for Teens of All Racial and Ethnic Backgrounds. Birth rates for black teenagers have dropped steeply in the 1990s. In fact, the largest declines in teen childbearing since 1991 have been for black teenagers.
- The overall rate for black teens aged 15-19 fell 30 percent from 1991 (when it was 115.5 per 1,000) to 1999 (81.1), compared to a 20 percent drop for all teens in this age group.
- The rate for young black teenagers (aged 15-17) dropped 38 percent from 84.1 per 1,000 in 1991 to 52.1 in 1999.
- The rate for older black teenagers declined 23 percent from 1991 to 1999, from 158.6 to 122.9 per 1,000.
Birth rates have also fallen since 1991 for non-Hispanic white teenagers. The overall rate fell 21 percent for white teens aged 15-19, from 43.4 per 1,000 to 34.1 in 1999, and the decline in rates was greater for younger than for older teens.
The rate for American Indian teenagers declined 20 percent during 1991-99 (from 85.0 to 67.7 per 1,000), while the rate for Asian or Pacific Islander teens, consistently the lowest of all groups, fell 17 percent (from 27.4 to 22.8 per 1,000). Teen birth rates have declined for Hispanic teenagers as well, but the declines did not begin until after 1994. Nevertheless, the rate dropped 14 percent between 1994 (107.7 per 1,000) and 1999 (93.1). Birth rates continue to be substantially higher for Hispanic and black youth than for non-Hispanic white and Asian or Pacific Islander teens. Since 1994, Hispanic teens have had higher rates than any other group.
Fewer Teenage Mothers Have Second Child. In recent NCHS reports, a key finding has been that the rate of second births to teenagers who already have one child declined from 221 per 1,000 in 1991 to 174 in 1996-97 (21 percent), and then rose slightly to 175 in 1998.(2,4) In other words, the proportion of teen mothers who gave birth to a second child fell from 22 to 17 percent in the 1990s. Because these second teen births are associated with the most adverse outcomes for the mothers and their children, this finding is particularly encouraging.
First Births to Teens Falling Since 1994. About four-fifths of births to teenagers are first births, accounting for 78 percent of teen births in 1998. After little change in the first-birth rate for childless teens from 1991 to 1994 (when the rate hovered around 50 per 1,000), this rate then declined 13 percent between 1994 and 1998 (to 43 per 1,000).
Declining Teen Pregnancy Rates. The estimated teen pregnancy rate (as differentiated from the birth rate, reported above) for 1996 is 99 pregnancies per 1,000 women aged 15-19, down 15 percent since 1991 (116) and the lowest level recorded since Federal data collection begin in 1976.(6) The decline in the 1990's reverses the 11-percent rise from 1986 to 1991. (The most recent year for which pregnancy rates are available is 1996.) Between 1991 and 1996, pregnancy rates fell 15 and 12 percent, respectively, for teenagers 15-17 and 18-19 years. Rates have fallen for non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black, and Hispanic teenagers.(6)