U.S. Teen Birth Rates At All-Time Low

This one’s a real shocker: As more teens use hormonal birth control and condoms, fewer have babies.

A report just released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows teen birth rates dropped 25 percent in five years to a record-breaking low in 2011. The CDC has also reported that teens are waiting longer to have sex for the first time and are using contraception more often when they do become sexually active.

All states except two—North Dakota and West Virginia—had a 15 percent or more decrease in teen births between 2007 and 2011.  Are we surprised that North Dakota has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country?

Birth rates for U.S. teenagers 15–19 in 1991, 2007 and 2011.

Percent change in birth rates for U.S. teenagers 15–19, by state, from 2007 to 2011.

Two groups, African-American and Hispanic-American teens, saw the greatest decrease in teen birth rates. These groups historically have had higher teen birth rates, so the lowered rates are encouraging. At a national average, African-American teens had a 24 percent decrease and Hispanic teens had a 34 percent decrease over the five years.

Since 1991 there has been a 50 percent drop in teen birth rates among white, Hispanic and Native Americans, and a 60 percent drop for African-American and Asian or Pacific Islander girls. The CDC estimates that if these decreased rates had not occurred, 3.6 million children would have been born to teenagers in those two decades.

While sex-ed and birth control certainly make a big impact on teen birth rates, studies have also shown that birth rates sometimes go down during tough economic times. Either way, comprehensive sex education in schools is the best way for teens to understand how properly to protect against STIs and pregnancy. Despite the rates declining, the U.S. still has one of the highest teen birth rates among Western nations, and still too many sexually active young people don’t understand how their own bodies work.

Charts created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


  1. “Either way, comprehensive sex education in schools is the best way for teens to understand how properly to protect against STIs and pregnancy.”

    Absolutely, but I seriously doubt conservative/religious groups — Concerned Women For America springs immediately to mind — will easily accept that viewpoint. From what I’m reading on their website, in the spirit of keeping a watchful eye on the anti-choice opposition, their position seems to be that the only “solution” to unwanted teen pregnancy is abstinence-only sex ed. If I were to ask some of their leaders a direct question, it would be, “If abstinence-only sex education is so ‘effective’ in your view, why are so many teen girls in abstinence-only classes still getting pregnant?” Then I would like to see what kind of response the “leader” would come up with for an answer.

  2. I had another thought; the fact that fewer teen girls are having babies because they have access to hormonal birth control is an even stronger argument for making contraception available to ALL women by offering it free of charge.

  3. Since we know that having access to hormonal birth control and accurate information about sex, it is quite alarming that some public schools are hiring abstinence-only speakers that actively engage in ‘slut shaming.’ According to a recent article at RH Reality Check (4/18/13), one such speaker, Pam Stenzel, “allegedly told students that if they were on the birth control pill ‘their mother probably hated them’ and that she could look any one of them in the eyes and tell whether they were going to be promiscuous. ” I find such mean-spirited messages to teen girls outrageous, not to mention disgraceful.

    Also according to the RH Reality Check article, Katelyn Campbell told another newspaper she is planning to file a lawsuit with the ACLU, complaining against Stenzel’s shaming tactics. I say good for Ms. Campbell, and I hope she wins!

  4. Angela MArtinez says:

    I have mixed feelings, but not because of religion or politics. Long term BC use can be seriously dangerous. I don’t know if people pay attention to all the law suits against BC companies and devices, but I have. Conception after long term BC use is sometimes very difficult as a result. STD are not small annoyances that should be dismissed as something you can also just pop a pill for. I think there is something valuable about not being promiscuos, not as a teen nor adult. There is merit to paying attention to yourself and how you feel about your body and your life and who you are and are not willing to open that up to.

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