Teenage Birthrate Increases for Second Consecutive Year

Rob Stein and Donna St. George, Washington Post, March 19, 2009

The rate at which teenage girls in the United States are having babies has risen for a second year in a row, government statistics show, putting one of the nation’s most successful social and public health campaigns in jeopardy.

Teen births in the District, Maryland and Virginia mirror the national trend, the numbers show, and local health experts say they are alarmed by the shift.

Nationally, the birthrate among 15-to-19-year-olds rose 1.4 percent from 2006 to 2007, continuing a climb that began a year earlier. The rate jumped 3.4 percent from 2005 to 2006, reversing what had been a 14-year decline.

Although researchers will have to wait at least another year to see whether a clear trend emerges, the two consecutive increases signal that the long national campaign to reduce teen pregnancies may have stalled or even reversed.

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The reasons for the increase remain unclear, although experts speculated that it could be a result of growing complacency about AIDS and teen pregnancy, among other factors. The rise may also reflect a broader trend that affects all age groups, because birthrates have also increased among women in their 20s, 30s and 40s and older unmarried women.

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The teen birthrate rose sharply from 1986 to 1991, leading to a widespread campaign that caused teenage sexual activity and births to decrease. But a long decline in teenage sexual activity appeared to level off in 2001, and teen births increased in 2005. Experts were uncertain, however, whether the rise represented a one-year aberration or the beginning of a trend.

The latest data, from an annual analysis of birth certificates nationwide, found that while the birthrate among girls ages 10 to 14 remained unchanged, the overall rate for those ages 15 to 19 rose again, from 41.9 births per 1,000 to 42.5.

Locally, the percentage of all births among teenagers in the District increased from 12 percent to 12.1 percent, while the rate in Maryland increased from 8.8 percent to 8.9 percent. It remained unchanged in Virginia at 8.6 percent.

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While the national increase from 2005 to 2006 occurred across all ethnic groups, the trends between 2006 and 2007 were not uniform. The birthrate increased 2 percent among whites and Asians and 1 percent among blacks, but it decreased 2 percent among Hispanics.

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Experts noted that the U.S. rate remains far higher than that of other industrialized nations.

“This is deeply disturbing,” said Sarah S. Brown of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. “It should be a wake-up call.”

One contributing problem may be teenagers having repeat pregnancies, said Margaret Rodan of Georgetown University, who directs the research project GirlTalk, which tracks first-time teenage mothers and pairs them with counselors who help them set goals, do better in school and space their next pregnancy.

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{snip} More babies were born in the United States in 2007 than any other year in the nation’s history–and a wedding band made increasingly little difference in the matter. The 4,317,119 births, reported by federal researchers Wednesday, topped a record first set in 1957 at the height of the baby boom.

Behind the number is both good and bad news. While it shows the U.S. population is more than replacing itself, a healthy trend, the teen birth rate was up for a second year in a row.

The birth rate rose slightly for women of all ages, and births to unwed mothers reached an all-time high of about 40 percent, continuing a trend that started years ago. More than three-quarters of these women were 20 or older.

For a variety of reasons, it’s become more acceptable for women to have babies without a husband, said Duke University’s S. Philip Morgan, a leading fertility researcher.

Even happy couples may be living together without getting married, experts say. And more women–especially those in their 30s and 40s–are choosing to have children despite their single status.

The new numbers suggest the second year of a baby boomlet, with U.S. fertility rates higher in every racial group, the highest among Hispanic women. On average, a U.S. woman has 2.1 babies in her lifetime. That’s the “magic number” required for a population to replace itself.

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While the number of births in the U.S. reached nearly 4.3 million in 2006, mainly due to a larger population, especially a growing number of Hispanics, it’s not clear the boomlet will last. Some experts think birth rates are already declining because of the economic recession that began in late 2007.

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The statistics are based on a review of most 2007 birth certificates by the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The numbers also showed:

* Cesarean section deliveries continue to rise, now accounting for almost a third of all births. Health officials say that rate is much higher than is medically necessary. About 34 percent of births to black women were by C-section, more than any other racial group. But geographically, the percentages were highest in Puerto Rico, at 49 percent, and New Jersey, at 38 percent.

* The pre-term birth rate, for infants delivered at less than 37 weeks of pregnancy, declined slightly. It had been generally increasing since the early 1980s. Experts said they aren’t sure why it went down.

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CDC officials noted that despite the record number of births, this increase is different from occurred in the 1950s, when a much smaller population of women were having nearly four children each, on average. That baby boom quickly transformed society, affecting everything from school construction to consumer culture.

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