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Teen birthrate at lowest in decades

Births to girls 15 to 19 fell to about 39 per 1000. Experts say the recession was a major factor driving down overall births in the U.S. and also likely affected the youth rate.

December 21, 2010|Times staff and wire reports
  • Experts say the recent recession was a major factor driving down births overall, and experts say there's good reason to think it affected would-be teen mothers.
Experts say the recent recession was a major factor driving down births… (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles…)

Teenagers are giving birth at the lowest rates noted in seven decades of record-keeping, according to government statistics released Tuesday.

The National Center for Health Statistics report doesn't speculate on why the birthrate has fallen, but two decades of public-health initiatives to curb teenage pregnancy may be paying dividends. Outside experts said the economy, too, could be a factor.

The report shows that the teen birthrate fell to 39.1 births per 1,000 girls ages 15 to 19 in 2009. That's a 6% drop from 2008 and the lowest rate since 1940, when the government began keeping track. In 1991, by contrast, the rate was 61.8 per 1,000.

Experts say the recent recession was a major factor driving down births overall, and experts say there's good reason to think it affected would-be teen mothers.

"I'm not suggesting that teens are examining futures of [pension funds] or how the market is doing," said Sarah Brown, chief executive of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

"But I think they are living in families that experience that stress. They are living next door to families that lost their jobs …. The recession has touched us all," she told the Associated Press.

A decline in immigration to the United States, blamed on the weak job market, is another possible factor. A large proportion of immigrants are Latino, and Latinos accounted for nearly 1 in 4 births in 2009. The birth rate among Latino teens is the highest of any ethnic group, with 70 births per 1,000 girls in 2009. But that rate, too, was down 10% from the previous year.

But the U.S. teen birth rate continues to be far higher than that of 16 other developed countries, according to a 2007 United Nations comparison that Brown cited.

Still, news of the large decline was a stunning and exciting surprise for advocates. "This is like a Christmas present," she said.

Other data from the report:

— The overall birthrate for all U.S. women fell for the second straight year. The decline appears to be continuing, based on data for the first half of 2010.

— About 41% of births were to unmarried mothers in 2009, up from 40.6% in 2008.

— The birthrate for women in their early 20s fell 7% and now stands at the lowest rate since 1973.

— The preterm birthrate continued its improvement, falling for the third straight year.

— The caesarean-section rate reached a new high of 32.9%. It has increased every year since 1996, when the rate was 20.7%.

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