The Percentage of Teens Having Sex Continues to Decline

Washington, DC – The percentage of high school students having sex has continued to decline, falling from 54 percent of all teens in 1991 to 46 percent in 2001. At the same time, the percentage of sexually active teens who reported using drugs or alcohol before their last sexual encounter increased slightly during from 22 percent in 1991 to 26 percent in 2001.

The national teen birth rate continued its dramatic decline in 2002, falling 31 percent between 1991 (61.8 births per 1,000 15-19-year-olds) and 2002 (42.9 births per 1,000 15-19-year-olds). Despite this progress, an estimated 18 percent of girls who are currently 15 years old will have a baby before age 20.

“When we see that 18 percent of 15-year-olds will become mothers before they are out of their teens, it reminds us of how far we still have to go,” said Angela Romano Papillo, M.A., who wrote the report with Jennifer Manlove, Ph.D. and Kristin Anderson Moore, Ph.D. “More than 400,000 teens had a baby in 2002 in the United States, possibly limiting their futures and the futures of their children.”

These and other statistics on teen childbearing, sexual activity, and contraceptive use – some previously unpublished – appear in the just-released 2003 Facts At A Glance, Child Trends’ annual newsletter on teen childbearing and related issues.

Facts At a Glance is available online at or by contacting Amber Moore at 202-572-6134 or

Other findings that point to the progress that remains to be made on this issue include:

  • Among teens who have sex before they turn 15, white females are as likely as white males to have sex early in life, while black and Hispanic females are less than half as likely as black and Hispanic males.
  • Hispanics still show the highest teen birth rates even after adjusting for Census figures (which found a much larger population of Hispanics in the U.S. than originally projected).
  • While the steady overall decline in the U.S. teen birth rate is remarkable, teen birth rates vary widely from state to state and between regions of the country. For example, New Hampshire maintains the lowest teen birth rate in the nation, at 21 births per 1,000 teenage girls ages 15 to 19. The teen birth rate in Mississippi – still the state with the highest teen birth rate – is 67 births per 1,000. The Southern and Southeastern states continue to have the highest rates of teen births. See this table for a complete ranking of the states.
  • The percentage decline in teen birth rates between 1991 and 2001 also varied greatly from state to state. California and Vermont showed the largest declines in teen birth rates, at 40 percent and 39 percent, respectively. In contrast, Nebraska and Texas showed the lowest declines in teen birth rates in the past decade, falling only 13 percent and 16 percent, respectively.

The 2003 Fact at a Glance also provides a list of state requirements pertaining to HIV/AIDS, abstinence, and contraception education for all 50 states.

Updated teen pregnancy rates were also released this week on the Child Trends DataBank. Pregnancy rates for teens have fallen from 116.3 pregnancies per 1,000 females ages 15-19 in 1990 to 86.7 pregnancies per 1,000 teens in 1999 (the latest date for which this information is available). More on trends in teen pregnancy can be found on the DataBank.

State and national birth rate data were provided by the National Center for Health Statistics. Production and dissemination of Facts at a Glance is supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Charles Stewart Mott 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.