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State Teen Birth Rate Drops Nearly One-Third in Decade

Pregnancy: Figure mirrors a national trend of youths having less sex, using more contraceptives, health officials say. Latina rate remains high.


The rate of teenagers giving birth in California dropped 4.2% from 1999 to 2000 and 31.3% during the last decade, mirroring a national trend of teenagers having less sex and using more contraceptives, health officials said Wednesday.

California's 2000 rate of 48.1 births per 1,000 girls ages 15 to 19 was one of the lowest levels in decades and was below the U.S. average of 48.7 births in 2000.

Moreover, decreases were recorded among every ethnic group surveyed, particularly African American girls, whose birth rate dropped to 59.9 births per 1,000 in 2000 from 63 in 1999. But the rate among Latina teenagers, though down, remains stubbornly high, topping 90 per 1,000.

There were 56,268 births to California mothers under the age of 20 in 2000.

Overall, however, "this good news demonstrates that California's prevention programs and initiatives work," said Gov. Gray Davis, who announced the numbers as part of the state's National Public Health Awareness Week events in Sacramento.

Children's advocates also hailed the numbers, which they called in line with their research.

"The research shows both a delay in the onset of sexual activity as well as greater use of contraceptives if they are engaged in sex," said Amy Dominguez-Arms, vice president of the nonprofit Children Now.

Teenagers seem to be listening to messages about abstinence but also appear to fear contracting sexually transmitted diseases, especially AIDS, she said.

But the positive overall trend masked several worrisome indicators that state education campaigns are not reaching all teenagers who engage in risky behavior, Dominguez-Arms said. For all of its improvement, California still ranks 39th in the country in teenage birth rates, and at least 22 other nations have lower rates.

Moreover, the birth rate among Latina teenagers in California is comparable to rates in economically disadvantaged countries.

"That number is very significant," said Anna Ramirez, chief of California's Office of Family Planning.

"I don't think it's cultural, but reflects the economic situation of a lot of young Latina girls growing up in California and how they feel about themselves and the image they have of themselves," she said.

Research suggests that girls who have fewer economic advantages tend to have lower self-esteem and a more fractured family life and to give birth at younger ages.

Also, although the state spends more than $25 million a year on prevention programs, young girls and boys of all ethnicities are bombarded with messages in advertising, movies and music about how to be sexual, but few messages about how to attain constructive goals and feel good about themselves, Ramirez said.

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