Politics & Government

After long decline, U.S. teen birth rates rise again

WASHINGTON — U.S. teen birth rates rose sharply in 2006, according to figures released Wednesday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ending a welcome 14-year decline.

While U.S. teen birth rates remained the highest in the industrialized world, the long decline had amounted to a 45 percent reduction since 1991.

According to the figures for 2006, the latest year for which data are available, birth rates for teens aged 15-19 rose by 3.5 percent. This increase marks the largest growth in teen birth rates since 1989-1990.

Analysts at liberal and conservative teen-pregnancy awareness groups had begun to notice the declines leveling off in recent years. Though dismayed, they weren't surprised by the upward spike.

The 2006 increase for teens 15-19 was from 40.5 per 1,000 to 41.9. The increases were greatest through the South and Southwest, and lowest in the Northeast.

Mississippi had the highest birth rate: 68.4 births per 1,000 teens aged 15-19. New Mexico and Texas trailed close behind.

New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts had the lowest birth rates. The only states with declines in teen birth rates from 2005 to 2006 were North Dakota, Rhode Island and New York.

Michael Carrera, the director of Adolescent Pregnancy Programs at the Children's Aid Foundation in New York City, blamed economic stagnation among low-income families, which, he said, led to indifference about contraception.

"It is one thing to know about contraception, but to want to use it, you must also have knowledge of a good life," he said.

Carrera and other teen-welfare specialists who favor sex education and contraception also think that the hundreds of millions of dollars that the Bush administration invested in abstinence-only programs would have been better spent on their approach.

Janice Crouse, the executive director of the Beverly LaHaye Institute, an alliance of conservative women, faulted an atmosphere of sexual tolerance, especially on campuses, where teens are "under the influence of peers, and under pressure to drink.

"College counselors see a very close connection between all the sexual activity and alcohol."

"Over the last decade, this whole business of 'hooking up' has been very injurious to our girls," Crouse continued, "not just in terms of pregnancy, but also in terms of STDs" — sexually transmitted diseases — "depression and a very alarming increase in sexual assault among college students."

Crouse blamed American society for "glamorizing teen pregnancy."

"TV shows with pregnant mothers don't show the morning sickness, the swollen feet, the more uncomfortable sides of pregnancy," she said.

Carrera said as well that the declines since 1991 were impressive only by American standards.

"Fourteen years ago, the rates were so high that anything looked down from there," he said.


The CDC report