The Washington Post reports that the birth rate among 15-to 19-year-old girls fell to 39.1 births per 1,000 teens for 2009, the lowest rate ever recorded in the 70 years that the federal government has been collecting reliable data. This is the second year in a row that teen births fell, signaling that although teen births rose in 2006 and 2007, those numbers deviated from a noticeable pattern.
Although it’s unclear why teen births are on the decline, many researchers are speculating that it has to do with the recession. This makes sense, because the overall fertility rate and total number of births in the United States have also dropped, and the recession is the obvious cause.
“Now I know that teens may not be as savvy about money as those in their 20s and 30s,” said Sarah Brown of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancies, “but many teens live with financially stressed adults, and they see neighbors and older friends losing jobs and even losing houses. So they, too, feel the squeeze and may be reacting to it by being more prudent. . . . Maybe part of tightening our belts includes keeping our zippers closed, too!”
Even though the end of that statement is obviously problematic (teens could be using birth control, and the number of teen births is not necessarily a reflection on how sexually active teens are choosing to be), it’s nice to hear teens being credited with being responsible, and that teen pregnancy isn’t being referred to as an “epidemic.”
Of course, everyone wants to take credit for the decline in teen births, not least the abstinence-only-until-marriage sex education lobby, which is casting dire predictions about the coming rise in teen births because of the Obama administration’s somewhat successful attempts to cut funding for such programs, and its new $110 million campaign to reduce teen pregnancy.
But a spokesman for Advocates for Youth, an organization that promotes comprehensive sex education, pointed out that if the recession is indeed the catalyst for the declining teen birth rate, what we’re doing isn’t good enough.
We certainly don’t want recession to be the most effective form of birth control in the U.S.,” said James Wagoner. “We stil need structural reforms in sex education, contraceptive access and pragmatic public policies to ensure a long-term decline in the teen birth rate–during good economic times as well as bad.”
To which I say: amen. Let’s hope that some of the reasons behind the reduced teen birth rate include healthy, informed decision-making, even if they also involve financial necessity.
Photo from Flickr.