WASHINGTON — The US teen birth rate has fallen to its lowest level in 70 years, a study said Wednesday, as an expert pointed to regular contraceptive use by teens as the main cause of the drop.
The 2009 rate was 39.1 births per 1,000 girls aged 15-19, or 59 percent lower than the high of 96.3 births per 1,000 recorded in 1957, said the report by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).
While the NCHS does not analyze the data it gathers, the Guttmacher Institute, which conducts research into global sexual and reproductive health, said most of the decline in US teen pregnancies — 86 percent — was due to more teens regularly using contraceptives when they have sex.
“Looking at long-term patterns, we have seen in the past 15-20 years that fewer US teens use no contraceptive method at all and that there has been a substantial increase in contraceptive use, particularly condoms,” Guttmacher senior research associate Laura Lindberg told AFP.
The Obama administration’s shift back to “scientifically validated, comprehensive sex education” from the chastity-until-marriage approach promoted under former president George W. Bush may have helped to boost contraceptive use, she said.
“But the US teen birth rate still far outpaces most European countries,” Lindberg cautioned.
The teen birth rate in Russia was nine percentage points lower than in the United States, while among European Union member states, only Bulgaria had a higher rate — 43.4 percent — of teen births than the United States, according to UN statistics included in the NCHS report.
In France and Germany, only around 10 percent of teenaged girls have babies, while in Britain the ratio is around one in four, a high rate for Europe but still around 13 percentage points lower than in the United States.
Lindberg said European countries’ teen birth rates are lower than the United States’ partly because of “different cultural values towards responsible sexual activity, and differences in how parents and teachers speak with teens about sexual behavior.”
The fertility rate for all women in Europe is also lower than in the United States, reflecting “different cultural expectations about child bearing and motherhood,” she said.
Teen childbearing has long raised concerns among health officials and policy makers for several reasons, including that babies born to teens are more likely to be underweight or preterm than infants born to older women, and are more likely to die during infancy, the NHSC report says.
In number terms, overall US teen births fell to 409,840, the fewest since 1946 and 36 percent fewer than the historic high in 1970, when 644,708 teen girls had babies.
In more good news, the birth rate for 10- to 14-year-olds also fell to a record low 0.5 births per 1,000 girls, the report said.