Survey Delves Into High Birth Rate for Young Latinas

Moni Basu, CNN, May 19, 2009

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It’s not what she wanted. Nor did her parents, who are the greatest influence on her decisions about sex, according to a wide-ranging survey released Tuesday by experts on the Hispanic community in the United States.

The survey also found that 84 percent of Latino teens and 91 percent of Latino parents believe that graduating from college or university or having a promising career is the most important goal for a teen’s future.

Somewhere along the way, the aspirations fail to match up to reality. The survey attempts to examine some of the reasons for the disparity and why Latinas now have the highest teen birth rate among all ethnic and racial groups in the United States.

“There’s a big disconnect between pregnancy rates and what Latina families want and value,” said Ruthie Flores, senior manager of the National Campaign’s Latino Initiative.

According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 53 percent of Latinas get pregnant in their teens, about twice the national average.

After a period of decline, the birth rate for U.S. teenagers 15 to 19 years rose in 2007 by about 1 percent, to 42.5 births per 1,000, according to preliminary data in a March 2009 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.

Of the 759 Latino teens surveyed, 49 percent said their parents most influenced their decisions about sex, compared with 14 percent who cited friends. Three percent cited religious leaders, 2 percent teachers and 2 percent the media. Video Watch more on the survey results »

Three-quarters of Latino teens said their parents have talked to them about sex and relationships, but only half said their parents discussed contraception.

The survey also found that:

o 74 percent of Latino teens believe that parents send one message about sex to their sons and a different message altogether to their daughters, possibly related to the Latino value of machismo.

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o 76 percent said it is important to be married before starting a family.

Flores said it is crucial to understand the beliefs and attitudes that influence teen behavior in order to reduce the high rates of Hispanic teen pregnancy. The survey, co-sponsored by the Hispanic advocacy group National Council of La Raza, was an attempt to to do just that.

She said that despite a rich culture and the growing influence of Hispanics in America, the Latino community disproportionately suffers from troubling social indicators.

Consider that fewer than six in 10 Latino adults in the United States have a high school diploma. Latino teens are more likely to drop out than their non-Hispanic counterparts, and of all the children living in poverty, 30 percent are Latino.

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Flores said 69 percent of Latino teen moms drop out of high school, and the children of teen mothers are less likely to do well in school themselves and often repeat grades.

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It’s an impact that is sure to be noticed. The nation’s 45 million Latinos constitute the largest minority group in the United States with a growth rate twice that of the general population.

That means by 2025, one-quarter of all American teens will be Latinos.

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