California has the nation's highest rate of teen pregnancy and the highest teen abortion rate, according to a new state-by-state-study released by the New York-based Alan Guttmacher Institute.
The report, published in the journal Family Planning Perspectives, said that the national teen pregnancy rate in 1980, the most recent figure available, was 111 per 1,000. In California it was 140 per 1,000. States ranged from lows of 75 per 1,000 in North Dakota and 77 per 1,000 in Minnesota to highs in California and Texas, which had a rate of 137 per 1,000.
In looking at determinants of teen pregnancy, the researchers found that states with higher percentages of poor people and of people living in urban areas had significantly higher teen pregnancy rates. Race was not found to be a factor--states with high pregnancy rates were found to have similar patterns for both black and white teen-agers.
Taking into account poverty and urban residence, the report said that "the broad social setting in which teen-agers make or fail to make decisions about reproduction" is of primary importance. Population mobility with family stress and social alienation and high crime rates and suicide rates were found to correlate with high teen pregnancy rates. States with high school dropout rates also tend to have higher teen pregnancy rates and higher birth rates. In states that spent more on education, teens were more likely to obtain abortions.
'Particularly Interesting' Relationship
Unemployment among teen boys and girls did not appear to have any bearing on pregnancy, birth or abortion, the study found. Indeed, it would appear that practical matters like supporting a child do not enter into teen-agers' decisions about sex and pregnancy. For example, the study also found what it described as a "particularly interesting" relationship between welfare payments and teen childbearing. While Administration policy about Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) has tended to be based on an assumption that receiving welfare support encourages teen-agers to have babies, the state-by-state figures show exactly the opposite, a negative association between the level of welfare payments and the birthrate for both black and white teens. States with higher maximum AFDC payments had significantly higher abortion rates, indicating that generous benefits are not incentives for teens to have children.
There are no easy answers to the teen pregnancy problem. The factors underlying a teen-ager's choice to be sexually active and risk pregnancy are not necessarily the same as the factors that influence the decision as to whether to abort or give birth. There was little correlation in most states between pregnancy rates and birth or abortion rates. Mississippi has a high teen pregnancy rate and also the highest birth rate of all the states and one of the lowest abortion rates. California, with the highest teen pregnancy rate, has a moderate teen birth rate. Connecticut and South Dakota both have among the lowest teen pregnancy rates, but Connecticut has a higher-than-average abortion rate and South Dakota a comparatively low abortion rate.
States with high levels of religious fundamentalism did not necessarily have lower rates of teen-age sexual activity or pregnancy, but they do have much higher birth rates and lower abortion rates than other states. Political liberalism (measured by voting patterns of the state's delegation to Congress) was found to be associated with lower pregnancy and birth rates for teen-agers, presumably because more liberal states may support more sex education and contraceptive services.
The Women's Substance Abuse Resource Center has made available its newly revised three-color poster, "Services for Women in Los Angeles."
Aimed at women who need varied kinds of help in Los Angeles County, the poster lists names, addresses and phone numbers of services including in- and out-patient substance-abuse programs, women's clinics, help for incest victims, rape and domestic-violence services and agencies dealing with the homeless and disabled, employment, legal assistance and youth drug prevention and treatment.
Last year, more than 1,000 women sought help at the Substance Abuse Resource Center as a result of seeing its listing on the poster. The center is a project of the Southern California Women's Substance Abuse Task Force.
Posters may be ordered from the center at 543 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles 90036. The first one is free; additional copies are $5 each, which includes postage and handling.