The most recent news about the birthrate for American teenagers is something to celebrate —even though there’s room yet for improvement.
That’s because the birth rate among women 15 to 19 years old fell last year to the lowest it has been in the 73 years that the government has been tracking it. The rate in 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was 29.4 births per thousand — a 6-percent drop from 2011‚ and the decline crossed all racial and ethnic groups.
Last year’s rate was less than half the 61.8 births per thousand recorded in 1991. The rate has declined steadily since that year, with the exception of 2005 to 2007, when it rose to 41.5 births per thousand.
Though it’s tempting to credit abstinence, especially for the juveniles, most of the credit apparently goes to other methods of birth control. Brady E. Hamilton, who wrote the report and is a statistician with the National Center for Health Statistics, says there’s been little change either in abortions or the level of sexual activity among 15- to 19-year-olds. For instance, slightly more than 50 percent of high school students reported ever having sexual intercourse in 1991, and slightly less than 50 percent reported having sex in 2011.
Instead, Dr. John Santelli, a pediatrician who is professor of population and family health at Columbia University, credits the “greater availability of much more effective birth control methods.” Condoms are one factor, though Dr. Santelli said teens don’t always use them and sometimes use them incorrectly. He mostly credits greater use of IUDs, inter-uterine devices. Unlike condoms, they won’t prevent the spread of sexually transmitted disease, but they’re more reliable than condoms in preventing pregnancy.
It’s prudent to discourage and understandable to lament sexual activity among high school students. Even so, the most effective response can be to encourage teens who are sexually active to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies as well as STDs. It would seem that the latter message is one teens are increasingly responding to.
As a result, fewer of them have to deal with a pregnancy, contemplate an abortion or have a child they’re not ready to care for — and that might suffer as a result of their mother’s immaturity and lack of resources (though plenty of couples long to adopt babies). And instead of worrying about a baby or their own circumstances, they get to be teenagers and young women who can pursue educations and careers and have children when they’re ready.
The downward trend is indeed a happy occurrence, all the moreso because it’s the people behind the statistics that matter.