(June 2014) Births to U.S. teenage girls ages 15 to 17 have decreased by 63 percent over the past 20 years (from 39 per 1,000 teens in 1991 to 14 per 1,000 teens in 2012), according to the latest statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).1 With an 8 percent decline between 2011 and 2012, the birth rate for teens ages 15 to 17 is at its lowest level ever recorded in the United States.2

This is good news, and reflects the overall decline in teen pregnancy. However, public health experts point out that births among this age group still number 1,700 a week, and that interventions for girls in this younger cohort are especially important since they have not yet completed high school nor are as yet legally recognized as adults. "The decline in the teen birth rate is encouraging, but the U.S. rate for girls ages 15 to 19 is still much higher than the rates in most other developed countries,"said Mark Mather, PRB associate vice president of U.S. Programs. "The U.S. still has a long way to go."

Having Conversations About Sex

Data from CDC's National Survey of Family Growth showed that more than 91 percent of female teenagers ages 15 to 17 had received formal education on birth control or how to say no to sex, and 73 percent had not yet had sex. However, almost 1 in 4 had never spoken with their parents or guardians about sex. And, of the sexually active teens, more than 80 percent had not had any formal sex education before they had sex for the first time.

Almost 60 percent of the sexually active teenagers used birth control services in the past year and more than 90 percent used some kind of contraception during last sex, but the majority of these girls used less-effective contraceptive methods, such as the diaphragm, female condom, or early withdrawal.

Parents play an important role in helping teens avoid risky behaviors: Strong and supportive parent-child communication has been shown to improve contraceptive use and reduce risktaking behavior.

Rates Differ Across Groups

The teen birth rate was highest for Latinas (26 births per 1,000 teens), non-Hispanic blacks (22), and American Indian/Alaska Natives (17), compared to non-Hispanic whites (8) and Asian/Pacific Islanders (4).

Teens, in general, need knowledge, skills, information, and communication to make healthy decisions about appropriate behavior. Especially for this group of younger teens, interventions and information should be developmentally and culturally appropriate, so they understand how delayed initiation of sex and effective contraception affect their future health and well-being.


Heidi Worley is a senior writer/editor at the Population Reference Bureau.


References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Vital Signs: Births to Teens Aged 15-17 Years—United States, 1991-2012," Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 63, no. 14 (2014): 312-18.
  2. Joyce A. Martin et al., "Births: Final Data for 2012," National Vital Statistics Report 62, no. 9 (2013), accessed at www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr62/nvsr62_09.pdf, on June 12, 2014.