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Teen Birth Rate Hits Record Low

Decade-long decline balanced by record number of births by unmarried women

WEDNESDAY, July 25, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- The number of babies born to American teens dropped another 2 percent in 2000, capping a 22 percent decline in the last decade, a new government report shows.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also notes the birth rate for teen-agers hit a record low for the second year in a row.

At the same time, the CDC says in its report released yesterday, there were 4,064,948 Americans born last year, a 3 percent increase from 1999 and the highest birth rate in almost a decade.

But if teens are having fewer babies, not so unmarried women. The number of babies born to unmarried women jumped 3 percent, to a record high of 1,345,917 in 2000. That's the highest number ever reported, the CDC adds.

"There was 471,000 teen-age births; that's still a lot of babies," says Stephanie Ventura, chief of the reproductive statistics branch for the National Center for Health Statistics. "But that number has been dropping steadily, despite the fact that we have more teen-agers in this country."

Since the early 1990s, when the teen rate first began its drop, births by black teen-agers have declined the most -- 31 percent -- while those by Hispanic teens have declined the least -- 12 percent. The birth rate for 15-to-17 year-olds also showed the greatest decline, down 21 percent from 1991 to 2000.

Credit a leveling off in sexual activity and an increased use of contraception for the encouraging news, Ventura says.

"We know teen-age sexual activity has leveled off because a number of surveys, including the CDC's 'Youth Risk Behavior Survey,' the 'National Survey of Family Growth' and the 'National Survey of Adolescent Males' have all shown a leveling off," Ventura explains. "And for those teens who are sexually active, they are using contraception, especially condoms. Among high-risk teen-agers, many are using these newer hormonal methods, such as implants and injectables, and those are extremely effective in preventing pregnancy."

Although the news on teen birth rates is good, there's still work to be done, says the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists.

"I'd like to celebrate, but that rate continues to be 10 times higher than Japan and is probably at least five times the rate in the Netherlands," says Stephen Conley, the association's executive director. "There's still a long way to go, and we've got to get sexuality education in its comprehensive forms into the schools, into the hands of families, and into the churches."

But teens do seem to be getting the message about sexually transmitted diseases, Conley suggests: "The message is getting through, and it's probably related to AIDS, and it's probably related to other sexually transmitted diseases, I hope. And teen-agers are getting the information through their access to the Internet. What I hear from teen-agers is that they are finally getting answers to questions, and some of those teen sites are getting a huge number of hits daily."

If the news on teens is encouraging, the birth rate for unmarried women could be troubling, Ventura notes.

"The increase in birth to unmarried women was pretty striking," she says, although she notes that it "could be due to a slight increase in the population of unmarried women of childbearing age."

She noted, however, that "the percentage of births to unmarried women has hardly changed at all from 1994."

Nevertheless, "the statistic remains a concern," Ventura says. "These women are more likely to have fewer resources, less stable economic situations and family status. And they are at higher risk, in terms of their health, which is also related to the economic status."

Ventura says the CDC's annual report on birth rates is culled from birth certificate records. Among the other findings:

  • The percentage of low birth-weight babies, which had been on the rise in the mid 1980s, has stayed the same -- 7.6 percent -- for the past two years.
  • In 2000, 83.2 percent of expectant women received prenatal care during the first three months of pregnancy, the same as in 1999.
  • Delivery by cesarean section rose for the fourth consecutive year to 22.9 percent, the highest in the past decade.

What To Do

For more on birth statistics, see the National Center for Health Statistics.

And for more on teen birth rates, see the Annie E. Casey Foundation or the Advocates for Youth.

SOURCES: Interviews with Stephanie Ventura, chief, reproductive statistics branch, National Center for Health Statistics, Hyattsville, Md.; Stephen Conley, Ph.D., executive director, American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, Richmond, Va; July 24, 2001, Births: Preliminary Data for 2000
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