Teenage Pregnancy Rates Are Out Of Control…

and pregnancy in highschool-ers is an epidemic! You hear people say it all the time, but do they really know what they’re talking about? Check out this chart I found today showing teen birth rates since the 1940s… 

Information & Image Courtesy of FamilyFacts.org

…probably not what you expected, huh? It definitely took me by surprise. It seems like the dominant assumption in the US is that teen pregnancy rates are currently out of control. However, something seems to be amiss in that idea. According to this data, which came from the National Center for Health Statistics, it would actually appear that the belief is flat out opposite of reality. The teen pregnancy rate is not, in fact, out of control and we may have just recently gotten it under control.

How much of this could be related to the fact that a lot people were married in their teens in and around the 1950s? Some of it can be attributed to that I’m sure, but definitely not all of it – we’re talking a drop of 57.2 per 1000 teenage females since the mid-1950s. That is HUGE. 

But look at the massive drop since 1991…that one definitely cannot be explained by marriage age, so what can we attribute it to? Decrease in abstinence only education? Better sex-discussions by parents (my mom suggested that one – good one mom)? Something else?

Some Facebook friends suggested abortion rates may have increased and skewed the data, but since abortion was legalized in 1973 abortion rates have actually been on a steady decline (especially in the teen age group).  

Information & Image Courtesy of FamilyFacts.org

I find this all very fascinating. Why is this generation considered so much worse than other generations? Why do people assume the pregnancy rates are drastically higher when they are actually drastically lower? It really makes you think about the things people say or assume on a daily basis. It seems like a lot of what we say in such a matter-of-fact manner may be based more on feeling than truly factual information.

I really want to hear from you. What did you think of these statistics? Did it surprise you? Does it make you want to smack your “babies-are-having-babies-and-your-generation-is-disgraceful” granny? Do you think most are under the impression rates have gone up because of the decrease in stigma surrounding the issue? Is there something simple I’m missing that explains it all? I’m so interested to hear y’alls opinions and ideas on this issue, I truly hope if you’re reading this you’ll share yours!

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9 Comments + Add Comment

  • I knew they were decreasing, but I think that they're still too high… and I think part of the perception is due to shows like 16 and pregnant that bring teen pregnancy into the forefront- plus, it's less taboo now, you don't have girls sent away to convents or something til they give birth these days

  • I knew they were declining too, but I think that there is probably more general discussion (not necessarily from parents…sorry to your mama!), but just from society, about the options available for birth control. I'm guessing that girls are more comfortable going to a county health center or Planned Parenthood and asking for the pill than they were 20 years ago. Also, I'd like to believe that girls are becoming stronger and more independent and thinking that they need to take ownership of their bodies and their lives and make something of themselves before they get pregnant. I don't know if either of those theories is actually true, though. I'm with C on the 16 and pregnant show, though! I've definitely gotten sucked into watching it when I'm channel surfing!

  • 100% agree with the more-access to birth control idea. It's definitely more socially acceptable to be on the pill now than it used to be in the past. My husband and I were actually just talking about that.

    There is definitely more general discussion, I agree on that as well. I do think that parents are doing better too, in general, with talking to their kids, tho. It's definitely not where it should be, but I think it is gradually improving.

    I'm glad the two of you knew rates had dropped. I too knew they had, but did not realize the magnitude of it until I found these statistics. It just drives me crazy that I hear so many people from older generations talking about the "disgrace of this generation" or how they/we are so "bad" and stuff…things are just more out in the open now!

  • I think this is really interesting. I hadn't really thought about whether or not the rates had been decreasing, but it fits the general trend of people waiting until they are older to have children. Both of my grandmothers were in their teens when they had my parents. My mom was 23 when she had her first child, me. And I know that I will be much older than 22 before I have my first child. So I guess from that perspective the data does make sense.
    As for the decrease since 1991 I agree with Red Stethoscope about girls feeling more comfortable with asking for birth control.

  • Surprised by the data. I would make some general statement about the prevalence of birth control, availability of pregnancy planning and abortion clinics, new modes of contraception like Plan B, etc., and then launch into how society has made the legal obligations of being a father more tangible, and finally conclude that today's women want more from their lives than children (education, careers, relative independence), but all of this would be unfounded. And you've shown how ideas catch fire in society with little or no supporting data.

    So I have no idea!

    Good read!

  • This post totally caught me off guard and shows how prevalent false assumptions in national discussions are. This post is right up my ally, I debunk false assumptions in political matters.

    However, the second graph only shows that the percentage of minors getting abortions relative to the number of abortion procedures is decreasing. It does not show that the absolute number of minors receiving abortions is decreasing. Hypothetically, each age group could be increasing in the number of abortions they receive, but the rate of increase could be smaller for younger age groups than older age groups. More data is needed to show the decline in teen pregnancy is not due to increased abortions.

  • Jason – thanks for pointing that out. Here's the information regarding overall rate of abortion, which has indeed declined along with teenage pregnancy rates.

    Although, would the scenario you stated be possible since all age groups are declining in that chart? I am horrible at statistics, but I left this chart out initially because I thought that if all the age bracket rates went down that the overall abortion rate must have also gone down with it.


    Like I said, I'm horrible at Stats – so I could definitely be wrong. Anyhow, abortion rates have indeed been declining, especially in the last 10-15 years.

  • Thanks for the reply!

    The senario is possible based only on the graph in the blog post because it only describes each group's percentage of the whole. The proportion of those 25 and older is increasing over time.

    Don't worry, graphs often confuse me too.

  • Like C said, I think that the media has a HUGE role in why the public opinion is that teen pregnancy is on the rise. I was surprised by the statistics, but I think maybe it's a sampling bias (go epi!) because I worked with a lot of teen moms when I used to be a 9th grade teacher in a low-income community. I would love to see the stats broken down by SES status. Danielle, did you come across anything like that in your research?

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About The Author

I'm an ObGyn. I started this blog as a medical student (some would call that doctor school) and now I'm working as an Ob/Gyn, which is seriously the coolest job ever. I'm a twin mom and recently added a baby brudder to the mix. My life story through November 2010 can be viewed here. The events in the many years following can be summed up as wedding bells, books, exams, babies, and doctoring. I started this blog in hopes of landing a role in a Lifetime movie so I could quit medicine and move to Hollywood, but that hasn't happened...so if you wouldn't take medical advice from Angelina Jolie, you shouldn't take it from me. I may not even be a real person. In fact, I'm probably a spambot. Or possibly a 15 yo boy blogging from a dingy basement. If you're really interested you can read more about me here. If you have any questions or want to guest post contact me.

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