NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Decrease in Teen Pregnancy Due to Abstinence

January 14, 2004

The 1990s saw teen pregnancy rates fall to their lowest levels in a generation. Conventional wisdom has credited the increased use of contraception. But researchers attribute much of the reduction to higher levels of abstinence.

Due to the availability of abortion, teen pregnancy rates and birth rates differ. For 15-to 19-year-old teens:

  • The proportion of single women who were sexually active decreased from 47 percent in 1991 to 44 percent in 1995, and the percentage that were abstinent increased from 53 percent to 56 percent over the same period.
  • The increase in abstinence reduced the total birthrate among singe teens by 2.8 births per 1,000 women.
  • However, the birthrate among sexually active single teens increased from 95.3 to 100.8 per 1,000 women -- largely offsetting the decline attributable to increased abstinence.
  • The birthrate among married teens also declined significantly -- from 410.4 births per 1,000 in 1991 to 362.4 in 1995 -- as did the proportion of teens who were married (from 4.7 percent to 3.9 percent).

The pregnancy rate among sexually active single teens also fell during this period, from 203.7 per 1,000 in 1991 to 196.9 in 1995. Since the birthrate among sexually active single teens rose, this indicates a lower rate of abortions.

Thus 67 percent of the reported decline in teen pregnancies was due to increased abstinence and 35.3 percent may be attributable to increased contraceptive use and/or less frequent sexual activity.

Source: Karl Zinsmeister and Eli Lehrer, "Teen Pregnancy Surprise," American Enterprise, January/February 2004: Based on, Joanna Mohn, Lynne Tingle, and Reginald Finger, "An Analysis of the Causes of the Decline in Non-marital Birth and Pregnancy Rates for Teen from 1991 to 1995," Vol. 3, No. 1, 2003, Adolescent & Family Health.


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