Teen pregnancies on the rise for the first time in over a decade

Via The Economist, some data about teenage pregnancies in the US:

On one point, however, experts agree: when it comes to teenage births, the United States is backsliding. Between 1991 and 2005 the teenage birth rate declined by 34%, according to the National Centre for Health Statistics. Between 2005 and 2007, the last year for which statistics are available, it crept up 5%.

A quick and easy blame game points to the Bush era abstinence-only policy, which is scientifically proven to fail.
But those working on the issue of teen pregnancy know it’s more complicated than that. Access to sex education and birth control are key to preventing teen pregnancies–but not all teen’s want to prevent their pregnancies. Some want to be parents, despite their young age.
Silvia Henriquez, the ED of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (disclosure: I work for them), is quoted in the article:

Latina teenagers, for example, have a considerably higher birth rate than any other group, even though they have similar rates of sexual activity. Silvia Henriquez, the executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, reckons that access is the problem. Latina teenagers are less likely to have health-care coverage for contraceptives, and are more likely to lack transport to the free clinics in their cities.

For some Latina teens (and others), parenting may actually be a choice. Now often it’s a choice that is couched within the context of little hope for their own future–why “wait” to parent if you don’t have access to college education or real career options? The same can be said of other groups, but Latinas are focused on because of our particularly high rates of teen parenting.
I don’t think being young makes you a bad parent. It does mean you’re less likely to make money in a society that rewards high levels of education and long working hours.
For me, an ideal strategy to address teen pregnancy and parenting is a situation where young folks are given access to education, birth control, but also support if they do decide to parent at a young age.

Join the Conversation

  • Brittany

    “I don’t think being young makes you a bad parent.”
    That depends on the age of the teen, really. My mom was 18, and she was a good parent, but I don’t know if many 15-year-olds that want a baby will, in fact, be good parents.
    I used to want a child when I was 16, and my mom told me to babysit a neighbor’s child every night for a week before I went back to her.
    That scared me straight!

  • Brian

    Science never proves anything, please don’t ever use the word “prove” with respect to science. Doing science, we develop models of the world, and test them against experiments. Where they correctly predict phenomena, we gain a little more confidence in them, but they might always be wrong. Where they’re incorrect, we retool them or throw them away.
    But nothing has ever been scientifically proven. The phrase grates on me as a scientist.

  • radhika

    I don’t think being young makes you a bad parent. It does mean you’re less likely to make money in a society that rewards high levels of education and long working hours.
    Uh, WHAT? A child should not be born into a family that can barely put food on the table or educate its own members. I’m not telling people to work their asses off, but an uneducated, poor sixteen year-old teenager certainly does not have the maturity, money, or security to raise a child.

  • Brittany

    I agree that sixteen-year-olds probably don’t make good parents.
    The reason being that the brain is still developing, as is the maturity. I also believe that good parents have life lessons or experience to pass onto their children, which sixteen-year-old children do not. Children having children is an epidemic.
    My grandma was young and raised my mother, who’s a brilliant woman, so I’m not speaking for all teenage girls…but in general, it’s never a good idea to have a kid at that age.

  • dhistory

    Could be a cultural difference. Some anthropologists think that the European Marriage Pattern is an evolved adaptation of agrarian societies in Europe. Some see a genetic basis for the preference of later marriage. I only read of it recently.

  • dhistory

    Statistical analysis with graphs and link to original report on recent increase in teen birth rate:
    “Most of the recent increase is due to 18 – 19 year-old births,… Moreover, there is an increase across all age groups, especially 20 – 24. So, there’s nothing special about teens of any age — the 15 – 17 year-olds increased a bit, while the 18 and 19 year-olds appear to really be part of a larger group of 18 to 24 year-olds. (Nature doesn’t adhere to our numbering system, where there’s a bright line between 19 and 20.) Births are just up overall, and the closer we get to the female fecundity peak in the early 20s, the stronger the signal is.
    “There is a downward trend throughout, with a steady oscillation around that trend. So, the rate will probably continue to decline into the following decades, and we shouldn’t be fooled by a temporary increase. For the near future, it looks like the rate will remain pretty flat for about 5 years, then start to increase again, with a decrease again after that, all on a downward trend.”

  • Tate

    For me, an ideal strategy to address teen pregnancy and parenting is a situation where young folks are given access to education, birth control, but also support if they do decide to parent at a young age.
    THANK YOU Miriam! Too many well-meaning advocates think this is just an issue of sex education and/or contraceptive access. I feel that taking a “pro-choice” stance means supporting young women in whatever reproductive choices they make.

  • Tate

    At what point does this comment stray from the age of the mother and into ideas of class-determined parental “fitness”? After all, there are many poor, uneducated adults who have children.
    The amount of money, education, or years of life you have under your belt does not determine how good of a parent you’ll be. Yet, these qualities are often evoked in discussions of who is “fit” to parent. I’m not so naive to believe that all a child needs is “love”, but I’m so tired of the idea that you need to have a college education and a savings account in order to be a “good” parent.

  • hfs

    Man, sometimes this site just writes the Republican talking points for them. Merits aside, it would play incredibly badly to try and pass legislation providing incentives for teenage motherhood. Just saying.

  • Tate

    Unless you define avoiding stigmatizing teen mothers as an “incentive,” no one is suggesting “incentives” for teenage motherhood.

  • jumpcannon

    Um. So who should have the right to determine their reproductive future? What criteria should a woman have to meet in order to control her own body?
    There’s a lot of circumstances that might not be “ideal” to raise a child in. But I don’t think I can really be the judge of who can have a kid and who can’t.

  • Tenya

    I like how “support” became “incentives” for teenage motherhood, it’s not like I’m advocating giving out cupcakes and ponies for becoming a teenage mother. However, that also does not mean I want to force a young woman to abort or give up her child(ren) just because she is under 18. And frankly, support (and I mean things like WIC to make sure potentially under 18-year-old women and their children have access to nutritious food, adequate housing, educational opportunities) should be offered unless they want to revoke the Hyde amendment and stop actively punishing young women for getting pregnant like those Republicans – who I am sure EVERY poster here is terrified of potentially saying anything they will like the sound of – seem to want to do.

  • Comrade Kevin

    We’re all navigating that uncertain area between soft paternalism and free will. Regardless of where we fall, I think that pregnancy needs to be judged on a case by case basis. It’s tempting for all of us to make a swift pronouncement that in one fell swoop solves a societal problem, but as prior comments have proven, it’s rarely that simple.

  • aelphaba

    Thanks for your general assumption that all teens are uneducated, poor, lack security and stability to parent at sixteen.
    Why don’t you come visit the teen program I run and I’ll introduced you to amazing , strong and courageous women who are none of those things.
    Or maybe you and I could sit down and talk about the depth and breadth of experiences facing young families today – I mean I wasn’t sixteen when I had my son – I was fifteen.

  • lauredhel

    Why do you feel the need to judge _anyone_ else’s pregnancy, Kevin?

  • kungfulola

    “The reason being that the brain is still developing, as is the maturity. I also believe that good parents have life lessons or experience to pass onto their children, which sixteen-year-old children do not.”
    This can’t be stated enough. In a society that is less individualistic, having children when you have limited resources and immature mental capacity isn’t such a serious handicap, because there will be a grandma or an auntie or a helpful neighbour who can step in and fill in the gaps. But leaving a fifteen or sixteen year old parent alone to fend for themselves and their child is more likely to create an environment of ignorance, destitution and lack. It’s not always the case, and it doesn’t mean that anyone should be legislating anyone’s procreation. But this is why support for teenaged parents is vital in order to keep these families from getting sucked into an abyss.

  • Brandi

    All 16-year-olds who get pregnant are not unstable, poor, or uneducated. I (born to a 17YO mother, btw) was in college full-time by then as are scores of 16 year olds.
    Beyond that, if my daughter were to get pregnant (or my son’s girlfriend), my partner and I would provide the stability and financial means to help them. While that’s not ideal (and obviously not available to every teen mom), it is available in many families and alleviates much of the concern about teen motherhood.
    For that matter, plenty of adult families live in poverty, and I don’t think we need to go around telling them that they shouldn’t have children because they have to live on a shoestring budget or they haven’t completed college. The problem with teen pregnancy is that knee-jerk reactions like yours don’t speak to the real experiences of teen moms. They speak to an abstraction that’s often not true.

  • Brandi

    Oh, oh, tell more about the program you run. I’m in the process of putting together a program for our city and am interested in how other programs work. There’s no model here to use.

  • kungfulola

    I can’t speak for Kevin, but I do think that anyone with a brain can see that there are choices in life that are likely to have favourable outcomes, and ones that are likely to end otherwise.
    I am a firm believer of “trusting women” in their life choices, but there will always be people who are outright irresponsible or who just float along through life like jellyfish with no thought to the consequences of their choices, which is just a stealth form of irresponsibility. Anyone has the capacity to be lazy and thoughtless – man, woman or any other identity.
    No-one’s behaviour should be legislated, but when someone makes a stupid choice, especially one that affects other people and that leads to bad outcomes for all involved, they deserve to be held accountable for it.

  • Melissa

    Are they defining “teenager” here as under 18, or under 20?
    That high school diploma makes a big difference, in my opinion.

  • Athenia

    When I was young (I’m 25 now), everyone was talking about AIDS—but now I feel we really don’t talk about it as much, specially with young children. And with this cohort, they wouldn’t have been born yet or they would have been too young to absorb it.
    Today’s 18 year old would have been born in 1991 and I remember talking about AIDS when I was about 7 or so, and that would place them at 7 in 1998. Who was talking about AIDS 1998?
    Could that perhaps be a factor?
    In other news, I kinda wonder how much freedom we might have later if got the whole having kids thing early.

  • Phenicks

    I always cringe at the idea that using your uterus = dooming your future. Dpending ont he ambition of the potential mother in question, her support system as far as childcare is concerned and her grades she could VERY damn well finish highschool go on to college and compete with the childless. My best friend did it and before she hit 25 she was earning well over 180K a year as a mother of 3 in the financial sector. If you ask her how she did it with the burden of motherhood she’ll CORRECT you and inform you that motherhood was her motivation, part of her determination and the gas that fueled her ambition whenever it waned. At this point she’s making even more than she was then and has a 4th child. It ALL depends on the woman and her support system. If everyone aorund her tells her she CANT make it then chances are with or without pregnancy, sex or anything else going on- she simply wont.

  • Phenicks

    Not only that but who the hell proved that by NOT having sex/sexual contact (sans ART) that you could still get pregnant? It isn’t that abstaining from sex and sexual contact doesn’t prevent the possible consequences of sex and sexual contact its that they are NOT abstaining!! When these teens who promise to abstain DO engage in sex they often refuse to use protection in denial of what they’re doing. Like somehow having sex isn’t real unless you’re on birth control or using condoms.
    Let’s start correctly saying that abstinence would work ONLY if abstaining was a realistic goal for ALL teens in this day and age. A mouth full yes but its the whole truth and not the farce that abstaining from sex doesn’t prevent pregnancy.

  • Phenicks

    MANY adult women who are on welfare don’t have the money or education to raise a child- should she be forced into abortions or coerced into abortions if she gets pregnant? Since she shouldn’t be having children and all.
    Pro-choice means PRO CHOICE. If you can respect her RIGHT and her CHOICE to get an abortion do the same thing if she decides to keep it. Check judgement at the door.

  • Phenicks

    So pretty much there ARE times when a woman’s right to choose becomes society’s right to dictate to her what’s best?
    Because there is NO other way to say this without pretty much taking away somone’s choice. Forced or coerced abortions are JUST as bad, traumatic, detrimental and anti-choice as forced or coerced birth.

  • Phenicks

    SO pretty much its get an abortion or keep your legs closed for teenagers because ya know, nobody’s going to DARE help them not be homles sor starve to death if they decide to CHOOSE to carry a pregnancy to term.
    Just. Wow.

  • lauredhel

    Phenicks, you’re missing a very important ingredient here, and that’s coerced sex and rape. Figures here show that 38% of young women have ‘endured unwanted sex’, and I doubt the figures are much different in the USA.

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