Efforts to curtail teen pregnancy have made great progress in recent times. The situation began to become dire during the 1970s and reached a peak in the 1990s.
Since then, the teen pregnancy rates have steadily fallen as have rates of abortions and teen birth rates. These trends are prevalent in all 50 states and all demographic groups.
How is this possible? There are only two ways for pregnancies to decrease. Teens have to have sex less often, or they need to increase their usage of contraceptives. Research clearly points to an increase in contraceptive use as the main factor that has driven the decrease in teen pregnancy.
However, trying to decipher the effect of societal changes on the frequency of teenage sexual activity is not easy to indicate in research. It’s important to try and understand all of the factors that help to keep the current trend of lower teen pregnancy.
About 6% of teenage girls became pregnant in 2010, and this indicates a decline of over 50% when compared to the peak years in 1990. There was also a significant drop from 2008 to 2010 of 15%. Of the teens who became pregnant in 2010, 82% reported that they had not planned to have a child.
Statistics have varied between states, but declines have occurred in every US region. In California, the pregnancy rate dropped 62%, whereas the decline in West Virginia was 25%. The lowest teen pregnancy rates have been maintained in Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine. Southern states have shown a tendency to have higher rates, although their rates have declined. In general, the vast majority of teen pregnancies occur at the ages of 18 and 19. In recent years, the average age when women first had sex was around the age of 18. Sexual activity at the age of 14 has become rare and is often non-consensual in these cases.
Reasons for the decline
Teens are having less sex, and they’re also using contraceptives more often. Researchers have spent a lot of time and resources to discover which factors have had the greatest impact on the statistics. They have concluded that contraceptive use has been the biggest factor in the decline of teen pregnancy.
Researchers analyzed data from a large government survey that was conducted between 1995 and 2002. The findings showed that 86% of pregnancies were prevented through contraception, which means there was a small decrease in teen sexual activity. Contraception use was especially prevalent in teens over the age of 18. Abstaining from sex had a larger impact on pregnancy for girls aged 15 to 17. When analyzing survey data from more recent years, it was found that there was even less decline in sexual activity among teens, and this was especially true for teens who attended high school.
Based on data pertaining to more recent years, the impact of contraception is even greater when compared to sexual abstinence than in the early years of the 21st. Century. This finding is further supported by the fact that there was a rise in the percentage of teens that began engaging in sex during the first decades after the year 2000, yet the pregnancy rates continued to drop.
What factors increase contraceptive use and abstinence?
Researchers are clear on the use of contraceptives as a major factor of the pregnancy decline. The reasons for the behavior changes are less obvious. Groups that advocate contraception believe that educational programs have played a primary role in reducing pregnancy.
Data has suggested that education promoting the use of condoms has a measurable effect on teen behavior, whereas efforts to promote abstinence are much less effective.
However, research suggests that educational programs were not enough to explain the remarkable decline in teen pregnancy. One reason for this conclusion is that the programs were sparse. Middle schools and high schools had an average of only 3 to 4 hours of classroom time devoted to these topics. Researchers believe that economic conditions and levels of education play a more significant role.
Some experts point to the economic growth that paralleled the decline in teen pregnancy, although there were some recession periods after the 1990s. Other analysts counter that a downturn in the job market will cause teens to delay pregnancy due to the increased burdens of child-rearing.
Another factor that had a major impact on sexual activity and contraceptive use was the AIDS crisis that emerged in the 90s. Social trends such as the traditions of marriage at an early age have also changed patterns of pregnancy among younger women.
One factor that should not be overlooked is adolescents and their own efforts. It’s important for society to help enable teens to have access to the tools that they need to prevent pregnancy.
There are still many teens who need more education and health resources. The current trends are good news, but authorities should not view this as a reason to slack off on efforts to reduce teen pregnancy.