NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Officials Hail 10 Years of Decline in Teen Birth Rates

June 7, 2002

The overall teen birth rate -- including all age levels and ethnic groups -- fell to its lowest level in 60 years last year, marking the tenth straight year of declines.

  • The overall birth rate for those ages 15 to 19 fell 5 percent in 2001 -- to 45.9 births per 1,000 teens.
  • That represents a 26 percent decline from 1991.
  • Significantly, black teens and high school girls between the ages of 15 and 17 saw an 8 percent drop in births.
  • Ruling out abortion as a factor, researchers say there are no clear reasons for the continuing decline -- but cited the possibilities of higher levels of sexual abstinence and better use of contraceptives.

The proportion of births to single white women rose slightly, while falling slightly for black, single women.

Nevertheless, the proportion of births to unwed mothers edged higher last year -- to 33.4 from 33.2 in 2000, troubling many observers, who note that 20 years ago barely 20 percent of births were out of wedlock.

"Children will benefit very little if all we're doing is delaying the out-of-wedlock birth by a few years," said Heritage Foundation analyst Robert Rector. What matters to children, in terms of poverty reduction, is not the age of the mother, he said, but "her long-term marital status. Clearly, we have to have a policy to try to restore healthy marriages in those communities where marriage is disappearing."

Source: Cheryl Wetzstein, "U.S. Teens' Birthrate Lowest in Six Decades," Washington Times, June 7, 2002.


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