The birth rate among teenagers has been steadily declining since 1991, but teenaged motherhood remains a problem nationwide with nearly 1,700 births each week borne by school- aged teens. These are the findings of the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) Vital Statistics report released April 8.
The CDC report focuses on girls ages 15-17 because these teens are more at risk for the medical, financial and social problems that arise with early motherhood. Of teens that give birth while still in school, only 38 percent earn a high school diploma by age 22. This compares to an 89 percent graduation rate for teens that do not give birth.
Young teen birth rates are higher among Hispanics, blacks and American Indians and Native Alaskans. There are also large disparities in birth rates across geographical regions. Washington, D.C. has the highest rate of young teen births at more than 30 per 1,000; The New England states have rates less than 11 per thousand with the lowest young teen birth rate found in New Hampshire at less than seven per thousand.
In an April 8 media briefing, Dr. Lee Warner, CDC Associate Director for Science, could not explain the variations in teen birth rates across the country, but speculates that poverty rates, race and ethnicity demographics are contributing factors.
The Vital Signs report includes the results of a National Center for Health Statistics survey of never-married females aged 15-17 years. The survey asked these teens about their level of sexual activity, use of contraceptives and amount of sexual education. Among respondents, 27 percent have never had sex. Of the sexually active, nearly 23 percent used no contraceptive with their first experience.
Most teens received education on birth control or abstinence, but only 60 percent were educated in both topics. More than 83 percent of the sexually active teens say they had not received education on these topics prior to becoming sexually active. Less than half the teens surveyed discussed sex and contraceptives with their parents.
The report concludes that while the majority of young teens are not sexually active, teens need formal education in how to make healthy choices and delay sexual initiation. Sexually active teens need information about effective contraceptives and reproductive healthcare providers.