The birth rate for females ages 15 to 19 has fallen to historic lows among all tabulated racial/ethnic groups.
About three-quarters of teen births are unintended. Children born to teen mothers are more likely to be born prematurely, to be born at a low birth weight, and to die as infants, compared with children born to mothers in their twenties and early thirties. They generally have poorer academic and behavioral outcomes than do children born to older mothers,, and are more likely themselves to initiate sex at an early age and to have a teen birth themselves. Even when controlling for background characteristics, one study found that children of teen mothers had poorer math and reading scores, language and communication skills, social skills, and physical and emotional well-being than did children of mothers ages 20 and older.
Compared with older mothers, teen mothers are less likely to finish high school or go on to college, and more likely to be dependent on government benefits, especially in the first years after giving birth. Additionally, the great majority of teen births (89 percent) occur outside of marriage; having a child as an unmarried teen reduces the likelihood of ever marrying and increases the likelihood of divorce. As a result, teen mothers often face the primary responsibility of parenthood alone.
Teenagers who do not use contraception at their first intercourse are more than twice as likely to have a birth in their teens. Compared with other teens, teenage parents are more disadvantaged, both before and after becoming parents, and they are generally unprepared for the financial responsibilities and the emotional and psychological challenges of early childbearing. These disadvantages may account for many of the negative consequences associated with teen births.
An analysis of the economic costs of teen childbearing suggests that it costs society $28 billion annually in lost productivity (of both the teenage parents and particularly their children) and increased burdens on the healthcare, child welfare, and prison systems.
Teen birth rates declined between 1960 and 1978 (from 89 to 52 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 19), then remained steady until 1987. Between 1986 and 1991, teen birth rates increased from 50 per 1,000 to 62 per 1,000, a nearly 25 percent increase in seven years. However, between 1991 and 2005, birth rates among teenagers declined by more than a third, from 62 to 41 per 1,000 women. Although teen birth rates increased in 2006, data for 2007 through 2014 show a resumption of the downward trend, reaching an historic low of 24 per 1,000. (Figure 1)
Long-term declines for black teens have been particularly great, with rates among girls ages 15 to 19 falling from 118 per 1,000 in 1991, to 35 per 1,000 in 2014 after a slight rise in 2006-07. Decreases in birth rates among Hispanic teens have been nearly as sharp, from 105 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 19 in 1991, to 38 births per 1,000 in 2014. (Figure 1)
After a steady increase between 1960 and 1990, rates for younger girls (ages 10-14) also decreased in the past two decades, more or less steadily, from 1.4 per 1,000 in 1991, to 0.3 per 1,000 in 2014. Among teen males, the rate of reported fathering peaked in 1994 (25 per 1,000 men ages 15-19), before beginning to decline, a few years after the decline for teenage women began. The rate had fallen to 11 per 1,000 males by 2014. (Appendix 1)
The long-term downward trends reflect the increasing tendency for teenagers of both sexes to delay sex and, if sexually active, to use contraception more carefully.
In 2014, nearly one-fifth of teen births (17 percent) occurred to young women who already had a child. (Appendix 1)
Differences by Gender
Adolescent males have lower teen birth rates than females, due in part to the fact that females generally have older partners than males do, as well as to under-reporting of information about fathers on birth certificates (in 2014, age information on fathers was not reported for 32 percent of the birth certificates associated with mothers under 20). For example, the teen birth rate for males ages 15 to 19 in 2014 was 11 per 1,000, less than half the rate for female teens during that year. (Appendix 1)
Differences by Race and Hispanic Origin
Prior to 1995, black teens had the highest birth rates in the U.S. Between 1995 and 2014, however, Hispanic teens have had the highest birth rates, and, until 2006, rates among this group generally declined more slowly than rates among black teens. Since 2007, however, Hispanic teen birth rates have declined dramatically, and are now similar to rates for black teens. (Figure 1)
In 2014, the birth rate per 1,000 Hispanic females ages 15 to 19 (38 per 1,000) was slightly higher than rates among black teens (35 per 1,000), followed by American Indian teens (27 per 1,000), white teens (17 per 1,000), and Asian or Pacific Islander teens (8 per 1,000). (Figure 2) In 2013 (the latest year for which data are available), Hispanic teens of Mexican origin had higher birth rates than those of Puerto Rican origin (40 and 36 per 1,000, respectively), and both were higher than the rate for Cuban teens (15 per 1,000). (Appendix 1)
Among males in 2014, black teens had higher birth rates than white teens (19 versus 10 per 1,000). (Appendix 1) Rates for males in other racial/ethnic groups are not available.
Although there has been great progress since 2007, the continued high birth rates among Hispanic and black teens are of concern. Sexually experienced Hispanic teens are less likely than other teens to talk to their partner about contraception before sex and are less likely to use contraception. Additionally, they are less likely to see having an early birth as a negative event.
Differences by Age
Older teens have a much higher birth rate than younger teens. In 2014, there were 44 births per 1,000 females ages 18 to 19, compared with 11 births per 1,000 females ages 15 to 17, and 0.3 births per 1,000 females ages 10 to 14. Births rates among older teens have been more variable than birth rates among younger teens: most of the decrease in birth rates between 1960 and 1976 was from this older group, as was most of the increase between 1986 and 1991. (Appendix 1)
Differences by Marital Status
Nearly all teens who give birth are unmarried. In 2014, 89 percent of births to teens between the ages of 15 and 19 occurred to unmarried women, which includes 96 percent of births to women ages 15 to 17 and 86 percent of births to women ages 18 to 19. Since 1990, when unmarried teens accounted for 67 percent of all women in this age group giving birth, this percentage has risen in every year but one (1995). Also, the gap between younger and older teens in the percentage of births where the mother is unmarried has been shrinking. (Figure 3)
State and Local Estimates
2014 state data are available in: Births: Final data for 2014. National Vital Statistics Reports, 64(12). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. (Table 12)
1998-2014 international estimates for birth rates by age are available from the UN Statistics Division. (See Appendix 10, data sheet)
International estimates of teenage birth rates are available for select developed countries from Child Trends’ Facts at a Glance 2001.
Reproductive and sexual health is identified as one of twelve topic areas of Healthy People 2020, a federal initiative to improve health in the United States. Goals outlined in Healthy People 2020 include reducing pregnancies among adolescent females ages 15-17 from 40 per 1,000 in 2005 to 36 per 1,000 population in 2020, and reducing pregnancies among females ages 18 and 19 from 116 to 106 per 1,000 population. Among related objectives are increasing the proportions of sexually active teens who use condoms and hormonal or intrauterine contraception, who receive formal instruction on reproductive health topics, and who talk to a parent or guardian about these topicss.
More information is available here.
What Works to Make Progress on This Indicator
See: Ball, V, and Moore, K. A. What works for adolescent reproductive health: Lessons from experimental evaluations of programs and interventions.
Also, see the U.S. Office of Adolescent Health’s list of interventions meeting its criteria for effectiveness in pregnancy prevention.
Also, see Child Trends’ LINKS database (“Lifecourse Interventions to Nurture Kids Successfully”), for reviews of many rigorously evaluated programs, including the following which have been shown to be effective at preventing teen pregnancy:
- Teen Outreach Program (TOP)
- Teen Talk
- Children’s Aid Society – Carrera (CAS-Carrera)
- Safer Choices
- Making Proud Choices!
- Teen Pregnancy
- Unintended Births
- Fertility and Birth Rates
- Sexually Active Teens
- Sexually Experienced Teens
- Birth Control Pill Use
- Condom Use
- “Statutory Rape” (Sex between Young Teens and Older Individuals)
- Teen Abortions
Birth rates are calculated by dividing the number of births by the number of persons in the relevant population, and expressing the result as births per thousand. For example, among adolescent females ages 15 to 19, the birth rate is calculated by dividing the number of births to females ages 15 to 19 by the number of females ages 15 to 19 in the population. If the result of this calculation were .044, this would be reported as 44 births per 1,000.
Data for 2002-2014: Hamilton, B.E, Martin, J.A., Osterman, M.J.K., Curtin, S.C., & Matthews, T.J. (2015). Births: Preliminary data for 2014. National Vital Statistics Reports, 64(12). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr64/nvsr64_06.pdf.
Marital data for 2002-2010: Child Trends Calculations from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Health Statistics. VitalStats.
Birth order data for 2002-2013: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Publications and Information Products. National Vital Statistics Reports. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/nvsr.htm
Marital and birth order 1990-2001 from: Hamilton, B.E., Sutton, P.D., & Ventura, S.J. (2003). Revised birth and fertility rates for the 1990s and new rates for Hispanic populations, 2000 and 2001: United States. National Vital Statistics Reports, 51(12). Hyattsville, Maryland: National Center for Health Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr51/nvsr51_12.pdf
Data for 1960: Martin, J.A., Hamilton, B.E., Ventura, S.J., Menacker, F., & Park, M.M. (2002). Births: Final data for 2000. National Vital Statistics Reports, 50. Hyattsville, Maryland: National Center for Health Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr50/nvsr50_05.pdf
Data for 1960 and for white non-Hispanic and Hispanic birth rates in 1980 from: National Center for Health Statistics. Health, United States, 2009. Hyattsville, Maryland: Author. Table 4. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/hus.htm
Raw Data Source
National Vital Statistics System birth data
Appendix 1: Birth Rates (per 1,000 Population) for Males and Females, Ages 10-19: Selected Years, 1960-2014
|15- to 19 -year-old Females||89.1||68.3||53.0||50.2||59.9||61.8||56.0||47.7||41.1||40.5||39.7||41.1||41.5||40.2||37.9||34.2||31.3||29.4||26.5||24.2|
|Asian or Pacific Islander||–||–||26.2||22.8||26.4||27.3||25.5||20.5||16.4||16.0||15.4||15.3||14.8||13.8||12.6||10.9||10.2||9.7||8.7||7.7|
|15- to 19 -year-old Males||–||–||18.8||17.9||23.5||24.7||23.9||19.8||16.6||16.6||16.4||17.3||18.2||18.4||17.7||16.1||14.7||13.8||12.3||11.3|
|10- to 14-year-old Females||0.8||1.2||1.1||1.3||1.4||1.4||1.3||0.9||0.6||0.6||0.6||0.6||0.6||0.6||0.5||0.4||0.4||0.4||0.3||0.3|
|Asian or Pacific Islander||–||–||0.3||0.5||0.7||0.8||0.7||0.3||0.2||0.2||0.2||0.1||0.2||0.2||0.1||0.1||0.1||0.1||0.1||0.1|
|15- to 17-year-old Females||43.9||38.8||32.5||30.5||37.5||38.6||35.5||26.9||22.2||21.8||21.1||21.6||21.7||21.1||19.6||17.3||15.4||14.1||12.3||10.9|
|Asian or Pacific Islander||–||–||12.0||12.1||16.0||16.3||15.1||11.6||8.5||8.4||7.7||8.2||7.4||7.0||6.3||5.1||4.6||4.1||3.7||3.3|
|18- to 19-year-old Females||166.7||114.7||82.1||79.6||88.6||94.0||87.7||78.1||69.6||68.7||68.4||71.2||71.7||68.2||64.0||58.2||54.1||51.4||47.1||43.8|
|Asian or Pacific Islander||–||–||46.2||38.8||40.2||42.2||36.8||32.6||27.3||26.6||26.4||25.4||24.9||22.9||20.9||18.7||18.1||17.7||16.1||13.9|
|– indicates no data available
1 Persons of Hispanic origin may be any race.
2 Rates for first birth and second birth are based on all women ages 15 to 19.
Sources: Data for 2002-2014: Hamilton, B.E, Martin, J.A., Osterman, M.J.K., Curtin, S.C., & Matthews, T.J. (2015). Births: Preliminary data for 2014. National Vital Statistics Reports, 64(12). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr64/nvsr64_12.pdf. Marital data for 2002-2010: Child Trends Calculations from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Health Statistics. VitalStats. Birth order data for 2002-2013: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Publications and Information Products. National Vital Statistics Reports. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/nvsr.htm. Marital and birth order 1990-2001 from: Hamilton, B.E., Sutton, P.D., & Ventura, S.J. (2003). Revised birth and fertility rates for the 1990s and new rates for Hispanic populations, 2000 and 2001: United States. National Vital Statistics Reports, 51(12). Hyattsville, Maryland: National Center for Health Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr51/nvsr51_12.pdf. Data for 1960: Martin, J.A., Hamilton, B.E., Ventura, S.J., Menacker, F., & Park, M.M. (2002). Births: Final data for 2000. National Vital Statistics Reports, 50. Hyattsville, Maryland: National Center for Health Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr50/nvsr50_05.pdf. Data for 1960 and for white non-Hispanic and Hispanic birth rates in 1980 from: National Center for Health Statistics. (2009). Health, United States, 2009. Hyattsville, Maryland: Author. Table 4. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/hus.htm
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Mathews, T .J., MacDorman, M. F., & Thoma, M. E. (2013). Infant mortality statistics from the 2013 period linked birth/infant death data set. National Vital Statistics Reports, 64(9). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr64/nvsr64_09.pdf
Moore, K.A., Morrison, D.R., and Greene, A.D., (1997). Effects on the children born to adolescent mothers. In R.A Maynard, (ed). Kids having kids: Economic costs and social consequences of teen pregnancy. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute. Retrieved from http://webarchive.urban.org/publications/901199.html.
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Martin, J. A., Hamilton, B. E., Ventura, S. J., Osterman, M. J. K., Curtin, S.C., & Mathews, T. J. (2013). Births: Final data for 2012. National Vital Statistics Reports, 62(9). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr62/nvsr62_09.pdf
Graefe, D. R., & Lichter, D. T. (2002). Marriage
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Martinez, G. M., & Abma, J. C. (2015). Sexual activity, contraceptive use, and childbearing of teenagers aged 15-19 in the United States, Data Brief No. 209. National Center for Health Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db209.pdf
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Hamilton, B. E., Martin, J. A., Osterman, M. J. K., Curtin, S.C., & Mathews, T. J. (2015). Births: Final data for 2014. National Vital Statistics Reports, 64(12). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr64/nvsr64_12.pdf
Hispanics may be any race. Rates for blacks and whites in this report exclude Hispanics.
Ryan, S., Franzetta, K., and Manlove, J. (2005). Hispanic teen pregnancy and birth rates: Looking behind the numbers. Washington, DC: Child Trends. Retrieved from http://ncfy.acf.hhs.gov/library/2005/hispanic-teen-pregnancy-and-birth-rates-looking-behind-numbers
Child Trends Databank. (2016). Teen births. Available at: https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=teen-births
Last updated: November 2016