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.


Ponta Abadi, a graduate of the University of Oregon, is a former Ms. intern. Follow her on Twitter.