Teen Birth Rates Continue Their Dramatic Decline

Washington, DC –  Teen birth rates are down, teen pregnancy rates are down, teen abortion rates are down, and fewer teens report that they are sexually active. At the same time, more teens who are sexually active are using contraception.  And most teens agree that it is not all right for unmarried 16-year-olds to have sex.


These are some of the trends documented in the just-released 2005 Facts At A Glance, Child Trends’ annual statistical newsletter on teen childbearing and related issues. 


“These statistics tell a generally positive story,” says Kristin Anderson Moore, Ph.D., who prepared the report with Jennifer Manlove, Ph.D., and Kerry Franzetta.  “These historic lows in the teen birth rate are seen in every age group and among teens of every racial and ethnic group.  Whether they choose to remain abstinent or to use contraception, a growing number of teens seem to see the wisdom of delaying parenthood until they have the maturity and the means to raise a child.”



“The statistics also uncover some troubling issues,” cautions Manlove.  “Despite progress, about 17 percent of current 15-year-old girls will give birth before their 20th birthday, and one in five teen births are repeat teen births. Moreover, even the positive trends that we have identified – such as the declines in the teen birth rate and the percentage of teen pregnancies ending in abortion – hold more strongly in some parts of the country than in others.”


Some highlights of the report are presented below:


Birth Rates

  • The 2003 birth rate for teens between the ages of 15 and 19 was 41.7 births for every 1,000 teens, representing a 33 percent decline from the high of 61.8 for every 1,000 teens in 1991.
  • The birth rate for non-Hispanic blacks (64.8 per 1,000 teens between the ages of 15 and 19) showed the sharpest decline between 1991 and 2003 – 45 percent.  The rate for non-Hispanic white teens (27.5 per 1,000 teens) declined 35 percent during those years, while the rate for Hispanics (82.2 per 1,000 teens) declined by 22 percent. {For more on birth and pregnancy patterns among Hispanic teens, see the Child Trends research brief Hispanic Teen Pregnancy and Birth Rates: Looking Behind the Numbers.} 
  • Birth rates also continue to show wide geographic variations, with New Hampshire remaining the state with the lowest teen birth rate in the nation (20 per 1,000 teens between the ages of 15 and 19) and Mississippi remaining the state with the highest teen birth rate in the nation (65 per 1,000 teens between the ages of 15 and 19).


The proportion of teen pregnancies that end in abortion has dropped dramatically – from 40 percent of all teen pregnancies in the mid-1980s to 29 percent of all teen pregnancies in 2000, the most recent year forwhich data area available.  However, the data show significant state variations, with the percentage of pregnancies that ended in abortion in 2000 ranging from a low of 11 percent in Kentucky to a high of 53 percent in New Jersey.



Contraceptive Use

More teens are reporting that they use contraception than in previous years. Between 1988 and 2002, the proportion of never married teens between the ages of 15 and 19 who reported that they used any method of contraception the first time they had sex increased from 67 percent to 75 percent for teen girls and from 71 percent to 82 percent for teen boys.  Teen reports about their most recent sexual experience showed a similar pattern, with contraceptive use during these experiences increasing from 71 percent to 83 percent among teen girls and from 82 percent to 91 percent among teen boys during these years.


Sexual Experience

Whereas, in the past, teen boys tended to be more sexually experienced than teen girls, the newest data show that this is no longer the case.  In 1995, among never-married teens between the ages of 15 and 19, 49 percent of teen girls and 55 percent of teen boys reported that they were sexually experienced.  By 2002, the proportion of teens reporting they were sexually experienced declined, and that percentage (46 percent) was the same for teen boys and teen girls.  



2002 survey data show that only about one-third of teens (36 percent of males and 31 percent of females) between the ages of 15 and 19 agreed or strongly agreed that it is all right for unmarried 16-year-olds to have sex if the partners have “strong affection” for each other.  These percentages were much higher when it came to older teens; 65 percent of teen boys and 61 percent of teen girls agreed or strongly agreed that it is all right for unmarried 18-year-olds to have sex if the partners have “strong affection” for each other.


In preparing 2005 Facts At A Glance, Child Trends drew heavily on preliminary data from the National Center for Health Statistics and newly released data from the National Survey of Family Growth.


Production and dissemination of the newsletter was made possible by a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.


Child Trends, founded in 1979, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center dedicated to improving the lives of children and their families by conducting research and providing science-based information to the public and decision-makers.