Trends in the Well-Being of America's Children and Youth, 2000. SD 4.5 Teen Pregnancy and Abortion

01/01/2000

The United States has the highest teen pregnancy, birth, and legal abortion rates among western nations. The teen pregnancy rate in the United States is twice as high as that in England, Wales, and Canada; three times as high as that in Sweden; and seven times as high as that in the Netherlands.77 The Society for Adolescent Medicine cites a multitude of factors, including the lack of sex education, inadequate access to reliable contraception, poverty, and substance abuse, as some of the reasons for the U.S.’s high teen pregnancy, birth, and abortion rates.

Pregnancy

Teenage pregnancy rates78 have declined considerably in the 1990s. The overall pregnancy rate was 98.7 per 1,000 women ages 15-19 years in 1996, down 15 percent from its high point of 116.5 in 1991 (See Table SD 4.5). Among the factors accounting for the overall decrease in teenage pregnancy rates are 1) a decrease in sexual activity, 2) increased condom use, and 3) the adoption of Depo-Provera and Norplant contraception methods.79 Furthermore, societal influences may have also combined to reduce the pregnancy rate among teens. One is changing attitudes towards premarital sex. Many public and private initiatives have focused attention on the importance of pregnancy prevention through abstinence. Furthermore, the long economic expansion of the 1990s has increased the economic opportunities for teenagers. The sexual activity of teens is closely associated with simple measures of economic prosperity. As a result of the economic boom, teenagers’ educational and occupational goals may have changed during the 1990s, with more value placed on school completion and entering the work force.80

Differences by Age. Pregnancy is more prevalent among older teens. For teenagers ages 15 to 17 years, the pregnancy rate was 67.8 in 1996, while the pregnancy rate for older teens (18 or 19 years) was more than twice that, at 146.4 (See Table SD 4.5.A). This gap has been apparent throughout the 1990s. This trend reflects the fact that older teens are more sexually active than younger ones. In 1995, over two-thirds of teens ages 18 to 19 years had been sexually active in the last 12 months, compared to approximately one-third of all teenagers ages 15 to 17.81

Differences by Race and Hispanic Origin. The pregnancy rates for non-Hispanic black and Hispanic teenagers are about twice as high as the rate for non-Hispanic white teenagers. The lower rate for non-Hispanic white teenagers is due to both the smaller proportion of sexually active teens and lower pregnancy rates for those who are sexually active. In 1996 non-Hispanic black and Hispanic teens ages 15-19 were more than twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to become pregnant (rates of 177.8 and 157.1, respectively versus 68.1). (See Table SD 4.5.A).

Abortion

The proportion of females ages 15 through 19 who obtained an abortion during the previous year increased from 2.3 percent to 4.4 percent between 1973 and 1985, presumably influenced both by the legalization of abortion and increasing levels of sexual activity and
pregnancy (see Section SD 4.2 and Table SD 4.5.B). By 1992, the proportion obtaining abortions had dropped to 3.6 percent, and it continued to decline, reaching 2.9 percent in 1996 (the most recent year for which data are available). Similar patterns occurred among both younger teens (ages 15 through 17) and older teens (ages 18 or 19).

There has not been a steady trend in the propensity of pregnant teens to give birth versus obtain an abortion over the past 20 years (see Figure SD 4.5.C). In 1972, the proportion of pregnancies (excluding miscarriages) to females ages 15 through 19 that ended in birth was
76 percent. During the rest of the 1970s, this proportion declined as abortion increased. Throughout most of the 1980s, however, the proportion of teen pregnancies ending in birth remained fairly stable at around 48 percent. By 1995, there was an increase to 55 percent in the proportion of teen pregnancies ending in birth, indicating a trend toward fewer abortions among pregnant teens.

Differences by Age. Older teens ages 18 or 19 have higher abortion rates than younger teens ages 15 through 17. In 1996, 1.9 percent of younger teens and 4.5 percent of older teens obtained an abortion (see Table SD 4.5.B).

Differences by Race and Hispanic Origin.82 Non-Hispanic black teens are more likely to have had an abortion than are their non-Hispanic white and Hispanic peers. Among non-Hispanic black females ages 15 through 19, 6.6 percent obtained an abortion in 1995, compared with 1.9 percent of non-Hispanic white and 3.9 percent of Hispanic females (see Table SD 4.5.C).

Sexually Experienced Teens. The percentage of teens who are sexually experienced has increased during the past several decades; therefore, it is reasonable to consider abortion in light of this trend. When abortion rates are calculated among females ages 15 through 19 who have ever had intercourse, the data indicate that the proportion obtaining abortions increased from 5.9 percent in 1973 to 9.1 percent in 1980, then declined to 6.8 percent in 1991 (see Table SD 4.5.B). Although a larger proportion of teen females were sexually experienced in 1990 than in 1980 (see Section SD 4.2), a smaller proportion of these sexually experienced teens obtained abortions.

 

77 Singh & Darroch. 2000. Adolescent Pregnancy and Childbearing: Levels and Trends in Developed Countries. Family Planning Perspectives 32 (1): 14-23. Society for Adolescent Medicine. Position Paper on Reproductive Health Care for Adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health: 1991 12:649-661.
78 Pregnancy rates are based on the sum of live births, induced abortions, and fetal losses.
79 Ventura, Mosher, Curtin, Abma, & Henshaw. 2000. Trends in Pregnancies and Pregnancy Rates by Outcome: Estimates for the United States, 1976-96. Vital and Health Statistics 21(56) Hyattsville MD.
80 Ibid.
81 Ibid.
82 Estimates for whites and blacks exclude Hispanics of those races.

 

Table SD 4.5.A Rate of females ages 15 through 19 experiencing pregnancy by age and by race and Hispanic origin: 1990-1996

  1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996
Females 15-19 years
Total 116.3 116.5 112.8 110.4 107.6 102.7 98.7
Race and Hispanic origina  
White 87.4 84.7 79.3 76.9 74.5 71.6 68.1
Black 221.3 221.7 217.3 211.7 201.2 184.4 177.8
Hispanic 155.8 164.6 167.8 166.1 167.2 162.8 157.1
Females 15-17 years
Total 80.3 79.8 77.3 76.8 75.5 71.7 67.8
Race and Hispanic origina  
White 56.3 54.1 50.4 49.9 48.7 46.7 43.9
Black 165.0 164.6 160.4 158.0 149.8 137.0 128.1
Hispanic 101.0 107.0 110.9 110.2 113.9 110.0 105.0
Females 18 or 19 years
Total 162.4 167.2 165.1 160.6 156.7 150.8 146.4
Race and Hispanic origina  
White 126.4 126.9 121.8 117.3 114.0 110.2 105.6
Black 295.3 299.8 300.5 292.4 280.9 258.3 254.4
Hispanic 231.4 247.6 251.6 249.3 246.5 242.7 235.4

a Estimates for whites and blacks exclude Hispanics of those races. Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race.
Sources: Ventura, et al., 2000, Vital and Health Statistics Series 21, Tables 3-5.

 

Figure SD 4.5.A Pregnancy, birth, and abortion rates for teenagers 15-17 years: 1976-1996

Source: Ventura, et al., 1999, National Vital Statistics Reports 47, Table 2.

 

Figure SD 4.5.B Pregnancy, birth, and abortion rates for teenagers 18-19 years: 1976-1996

Source: Ventura, et al., 1999, National Vital Statistics Reports 47, Table 2.

 

Table SD 4.5.B Percentage of females ages 15 through 19 in the United States obtaining an abortion during the year, by age and by race and Hispanic origin: 1990-1996

  1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996
Females ages 15-17
Total 2.7 2.4 2.3 2.3 2.1 2.0 1.9
Race and Hispanic origina  
White 2.1 1.8 1.6 1.5 1.4 1.3 1.3
Black 5.8 5.5 5.4 5.4 5.0 4.6 4.4
Hispanic 2.4 2.5 2.8 2.7 2.8 2.5 2.5
Females ages 18 or 19
Total 5.8 5.6 5.4 5.2 4.9 4.6 4.5
Race and Hispanic origina  
White 4.7 4.3 3.9 3.7 3.3 3.1 2.9
Black 11.7 11.6 11.7 11.5 10.8 9.8 10.0
Hispanic 6.0 6.3 6.6 6.4 6.3 5.9 6.0
Females ages 15-19
Total 4.0 3.8 3.6 3.4 3.2 3.0 2.9
Race and Hispanic origina  
White 3.2 2.8 2.5 2.4 2.2 2.0 1.9
Black 8.4 8.1 8.0 7.8 7.3 6.6 6.6
Hispanic 3.9 4.0 4.3 4.2 4.2 3.9 3.9

a Estimates for whites and blacks exclude Hispanics of those races. Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race.
Sources: Ventura, et al., 2000.

 

Table SD 4.5.C Percentage of females under age 20 in the United States obtaining an abortion, by all females and sexually experienced females: Selected years, 1973-1996

  1973 1975 1980 1985 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996
All females ages 14 or youngera 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9 0.8 0.7 0.8
All females ages 15-17 1.9 2.4 3.0 3.1 2.7 2.4 2.3 2.3 2.1 2.0 1.9
All females ages 18 or 19 2.9 4.2 6.1 6.2 5.8 5.6 5.4 5.2 4.9 4.6 4.5
All females ages 15-19 2.3 3.1 4.3 4.4 4.0 3.8 3.6 3.4 3.2 3.0 2.9
Sexually experienced females ages 15-19b 5.9 7.5 9.1 8.5 7.3 6.8

a Denominator is 14-year-old females.
b Data for sexually experienced females for 1985 were interpolated from 1980 and 1988 data. Data for sexually experienced females are not available for 1992-1995. Data for females ages 14 or younger are not available for 1993-1995.
Sources: Henshaw, 1998; Alan Guttmacher Institute, Table 2; Alan Guttmacher Institute. 1994, Figure 36. Both are based on data from abortion providers and sexual experience data from the National Survey of Family Growth; also, unpublished data from Ventura, Mosher, and Henshaw, National Center for Health Statistics and published and unpublished data from the Alan Guttmacher Institute.

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