There is some good news about the rate of teenage parenthood in America. It’s on the decline again.
According to a new report released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) yesterday, between 2007 and 2008, teen birth rates decreased by 2.4 percent. From a long-term perspective, the drop is even more dramatic. Between 1991 and 2008, the teen birth rate fell by nearly one-third. In only two years during this period, from 2005 to 2007, were there slight upticks in the number.
The other main findings of the report focus on the significant state variations in teen birth rates, from the low of 19.8 births per 1,000 teenage girls age 15–19 in New Hampshire to the high of 65.7 births per 1,000 teens in Mississippi.
Specifically, the report finds that, for white and Hispanic teens, the rates are consistently higher in the Southeast and lower in the Northeast and California. For African-American teens, the rates are the highest in the upper Midwest and the Southeast.
This variation can be explained partly by the race and Hispanic origin-specific birth rates of each state as well as the population composition of states by race and Hispanic origin, the CDC researchers note:
Historically, national birth rates have been higher for Hispanic for Hispanic and non-Hispanic black teenagers than for non-Hispanic white teenagers. Thus, states with large proportions of Hispanic or non-Hispanic black teenagers would be expected to have higher overall teenage birth rates. Although this tends to be the observed pattern, there are some notable exceptions.
With each new release of such data, proponents of safer-sex education, such as Planned Parenthood, jump to give it their usual disingenuous spin, blaming it all on abstinence education. Their claims, of course, are false.
For one, research suggests that abstinence education has been effective in reducing teen sexual activity. In fact, prior to the introduction of federally funded abstinence education in 1996, total fertility rate of teens remained flat. It was only after the 1996 welfare reform, which wrote abstinence education into law, that the fertility rate began to drop among teens.
Moreover, the causes of teen childbearing are complex. As the CDC researchers explain:
Variations in teenage birth rates reflect differences in many factors, including differences in socioeconomic factors such as education and income, risk behaviors such as sexual activity and contraceptive use, and attitudes among teenagers toward pregnancy and childbearing.
And sometimes even the experts, often in fear of being politically incorrect, are reluctant or fail to explore the true causes of problem, as pointed out by Robert Rector, senior research fellow at Heritage, in a recent National Review Online article on the culture of poverty.
Failure to understand the true causes leads to problematic misdiagnoses and faulty—and often very costly—remedies, as the case of the collapse of marriage and poverty amply demonstrates.
While the teen birth rate has dropped significantly in recent decades, the out-of-wedlock birth rate has exploded from 6 percent in 1960 to 40.6 percent in 2008. That is, in 2008, four children in 10 were born to unwed mothers. Unwed births are often confused with teen pregnancy and births, but less than 8 percent of unwed births occurred to teens. Three-quarters of out-of-wedlock childbearing occurred to young adult women in their 20s.
The breakdown of marriage and the attendant rise in unwed childbearing are the major causes of child poverty in America, not vice versa. But a misdiagnosis of this problem has led the government to spend over $15 trillion in anti-poverty spending. Yet the problem has only gotten worse.
The lesson of misdiagnosing poverty is applicable teen risk behavior. While the teen birth rate has declined in recent decades, it remains high compared to other Western countries. Thus, efforts ought to focus on the real factors leading to such behavior, not political correctness.