Double Jeopardy: Repeat Births to Teens

Washington, DC – What is worse than having a baby as a teenager? For one in five teens giving birth, it is having another baby as a teen. A new Child Trends research brief reveals that 20 percent of births to female teens between the ages of 15 and 19 in 2004 were to teens who were already mothers.

The brief, Repeat Teen Childbearing: Differences Across States and by Race and Ethnicity, highlights state-level data on second and higher order births. The proportion of teen births that are repeat births in each state tends to mirror overall teen birth rates:

  • Texas, which has the highest overall teen birth rate (63 births per 1,000 females ages 15-19), also has the highest percentage of repeat teen births (24 percent).
  • New Hampshire, which has the lowest overall teen birth rate (18 births per 1,000 females ages 15-19), has the lowest percentage of repeat teen births along with Maine and Vermont (12 percent).

The good news is that, like teen birth rates, the percentage of repeat teen births has been declining.  Since 1990, there has been a 20 percent decrease nationally and the proportion of repeat births declined in all states, with the amount of decline ranging from 4 percent to 40 percent.  Additionally, repeat teen births since 1990 have declined among all racial/ethnic groups, but these declines have not been uniform.  The percentage of repeat births to Hispanics and non-Hispanic blacks are still above the national average.

  • In 2004, the percentage of repeat teen births varied from 23 percent for non-Hispanic blacks to 22 percent for Hispanics, 19 percent for Asian/ Pacific Islanders, and 17 percent for whites.
  • Non-Hispanic blacks had the greatest decline in the proportion of repeat teen births, a trend which follows the general decline in the African-American teen birth rate.

Despite repeat teen childbearing’s impact on the most disadvantaged teens, the public is largely unaware of the issue.  In a recent national telephone survey, 85 percent of people overestimated, underestimated, or did not know what percentage of teenagers who are giving birth are already mothers.

“Repeat teen births are the hidden face of teen childbearing.  Even though they have declined in all 50 states, 83,000 repeat births occurred to teens in 2004,” said Jennifer Manlove, Ph.D., Senior Research Scientist at Child Trends and co-author of the report.  “Teen mothers and their children face educational, economic, health, and developmental challenges, and a second teen birth compounds these problems.”

Factors such as delaying first sexual intercourse, using contraceptives and staying in school have been shown to decrease teen moms’ chances of having another birth. Services such as nurses’ home visits, in which trained nurses visit expectant adolescent mothers before and after the birth of their child, can help to prevent repeat births to teenage mothers, and lead to better outcomes for mothers and children.

The research brief is based on 1990 and 2004 data from the National Center for Health Statistics. The separate telephone survey asking adults to estimate the prevalence of repeat teen childbearing was conducted from September 28 – October 1, 2007 among a national sample of 1,018 adults living in private households in the continental U.S.

Child Trends is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center that studies children from pregnancy to the transition to adulthood.  Its mission is to improve outcomes for children by providing research, data, and analysis to the people and institutions whose decisions and actions affect children.