The teen birth rate (different from the teen pregnancy rate) in the United States dropped to an all-time low in 2010, announced by the Center of Disease Control this month.
There were 34.3 births per 1,000 teenagers aged 15-19 in 2010, a 9% drop from 2009 and the lowest rate in the nearly 70 years data has been collected, according to the CDC. Experts from the CDC attributed this drop to the poor economy, increased sex education and to teen pregnancy reality shows such as MTV’s Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant. The shows provide young viewers with a “sobering look at the reality of being a parent,” says Bill Albert, spokesman for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, a Washington-based non-profit.
Here’s where it gets interesting.
In 2009, when teen birth rates increased in 26 out of the 50 states, the CDC attributed this increase to the poor economy, worse sex education, the movie Juno, teen pregnancy reality shows (16 and Pregnant debuted June 2009, Teen Mom debuted in December 2009) and celebrity teen moms Bristol Palin and Jamie Lynn Spears.
For those that claim that teens are not influenced by what television shows or movies they watch, take this one fact with you. In 2011, the Social Security Administration reported that the names of one of the featured and most popular mothers and her son (“Maci” and “Bentley”, respectively) were the names that saw the greatest increase in frequency over the past year. Naming your kids after the children of teen mom reality stars is a surefire way to send your kid straight to a life behind bars or dancing on poles.
Is MTV and Hollywood responsible for the increase or decrease of teen birth rates? What about the economy? Overall birth rates across all ages were down in 2010. What about teens? Teens live at home and don’t have to worry about “real world” issues such as making ends meet or not catching a cold because there isn’t four walls and a roof around them. Besides having a reduction in an allowance and making it a little more difficult to find their first job, teens are hardly affected by the economy.
Other “experts” attribute the 2010 decrease to teen birth rates to an increase in teen contraceptive use, even though 20% of sexually active teens do not use any form of birth control and 87% of teen girls do not have access to abortion providers within their county.
Back to the poor economy argument – historically, high poverty rates increase the teen birth rate as teen girls see it as the only possibility into adulthood as their option for a college education or a job paying more than $8 an hour or requiring clear high heels as part of the dress code is out of their reach. Wouldn’t this cause an increase in the teen pregnancy rate?
Young people don’t look at the long-term picture. They don’t think of all the realistic implications that are coming down the road. They focus on how wonderful this is going to be to have this wonderful baby who I can love and who will love me. Movies such as Juno and Knocked Up, and MTV’s teen-targeted reality shows make teen pregnancy seem cool and glamorize something that was shunned and shamed in previous generations.
Research on teen mothers shows that their children often are raised in poverty because teenage mothers are less educated (high school diploma/GED or less) and likely to have fewer job skills. With 95% of Americans having pre-martial sex, it’s not surprising that we are losing jobs overseas to countries that value higher education over having children at an early age.
Speaking at the American Public Health Association‘s annual conference, CDC Director Thomas Frieden said, “Teenage pregnancy really is the intergenerational transmission of poverty.” He added that lowering teenage pregnancy rates is “one of the things we can do that has the biggest impact in societal inequality.” Other countries have done a better job at reducing teen pregnancy rates, he noted, adding that there are proven strategies for preventing teen pregnancy.
Proven strategies? It’s called parenting, and Americans notoriously suck at it.
It’s clear that no one knows exactly why teen birth rates rise and decline. There is a myriad of factors why. I ask all of these self-proclaimed experts to stop looking at the year-over-year changes and look at the whole enchilada. Nationally, our rates might be at an all-time low, but counties in some states are seeing all-time highs.
America has significantly more teen pregnancies each year than any other developed nation. The good news is that the American teen birth rate has steadily decreased over the past 70 years, despite year-to-year ups and downs.
The bottom line, though, is that the United States’ teen birth rate remains an outlier, as does the teen pregnancy and abortion rate too, which occur far more often here than our European friends.