Stateline Story

Births to Teenagers Drop in Every State

  • March 28, 2000
  • By Clare Nolan

Teen birth rates continued to decline in 1998 and have hit their lowest level since 1986. Births to women age 15-19 fell significantly in every state and the District of Columbia, the Centers for Disease Control reported Tuesday.

In 1998, the latest year for which data are available, births to teenagers dropped another two percent nationwide. Rates fell significantly in every state and in the District of Columbia.

Overall throughout the 1990s, birth rates for women 15-to-19 declined steadily and are now down 18 percent from their twenty-year peak in 1991.

With these latest declines, the United States has nearly reversed a disheartening legacy of the late 1980s. After dropping steadily for 15 years, births to teenagers spiked between 1986 and 1991. In 1991, more than 60 children were born to every 1000 teenage women.

In 1998, the rate was 51 births per 1000 women 15-to-19, the lowest since 1986.

Teen pregnancy rates have also fallen. Meanwhile, the actual number of women 15 to 19 has gone up.

"Certainly, this is very positive news. We have reason to celebrate," said Jennifer Manlove of Child Trends, a non-profit research group in Washington, D.C. "But it's not the time to sit back and relax. There is still work to be done."

The United States' teen birth rate is higher than that of every developed nation including many of the former Soviet Socialist Republics, Manlove says. Only Armenia has a larger percentage of births to teen mothers.

The CDC does report one caveat to the good news. In 1998, births to all unmarried women increased slightly. The birth rate for unmarried, white women age 20 to 29 accounted for most of the increase, the CDC found, while rates for black and Hispanic women in their 20s continued to decline.

Children born to teen and unmarried mothers are of particular concern to health experts and policy makers because they are much more likely to suffer a host of economic and developmental problems.

Almost 80 percent of teen mothers are not married. Their children are more likely to weigh less at birth. They are more likely to experience delays in cognitive development. They are more likely to grow up poor, they are more likely to become teen parents themselves and they are more likely to rely on welfare as adults.

"A lot of the consequences are due to the fact that teenage mothers are more likely to be disadvantaged themselves," Manlove said.

The CDC report cites three reasons for the continuing declines: a leveling-off in the percentage of teens who are having sex, the national emphasis on abstinence, and an increased use of birth control.

African-American teenagers have benefited most from the drop in teen births and pregnancy, the CDC found. Births to black women aged 15 to 19 fell 26 percent between 1991 and 1998.

Vermont tallied 24 births per 1000 teenaged women in 1998, the lowest in the nation. It also recorded the largest drop in teen birth rates between 1991 and 1998. Vermont and its neighbors, New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts, have tended to have the most success in deterring teen motherhood.

The District of Columbia, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas and Arizona recorded the highest rates in 1998, from 86.7 births per 1000 in D.C. to 70.5 per 1000 in Arizona.