Most of the time when you hear about social problems you are left with the feeling things never can get better. Last week, however, to minimal fanfare, the Centers for Disease Control announced that the rate of teenagers giving birth has hit the lowest level since 1946, the first year teen births were tracked.
Expecting the public to scoff at the positive report after hearing mostly dire ones, a researcher with the National Center for Health Statistics assured the New York Times that experts are confident with these findings. Figures are based on actual birth certificates across the nation, not projections.
From 2009 to 2010, births to teen mothers fell by 9 percent across the United States with a level of 34.3 births per 1,000 females aged 15-19 in 2010.
A graph on the Washington Post website showed a solid improvement in teen birth rates since the 1990s.
In Georgia, the drop was dramatic with teens giving birth to 20,886 babies in 2009, declining to 14,285 teen births in 2010, according to the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention. However, with a rate of 41.2 births per 1,000 teens, Georgia is still higher than the national average.
Improvement in teenager pregnancy rates held true across all racial lines and in all but three states. (Sorry, Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia.)
Researchers from the CDC, the Healthy Teen Network and the National Center for Health Statistics attributed the improvement to a combination of less risk taking among teens, abstinence programs, better sex education classes and more birth control use.
"The teen birth rate decline is excellent news, supporting the recent emphasis and federal funding for evidenced-based programs to prevent teen pregnancy," says Dr. Pat Paluzzi, President/CEO of Healthy Teen Network. "These programs are proven to be effective at reducing sexual risk-taking behavior and incorporate contraception."
This double approach of abstinence and contraception-use is backed by other statistics from the CDC as reported by the New York Times, showing that since 1991 the number of teens who say they have never had sex has increased by 15 percent, while the number of teens using birth control has risen by 32 percent.
Dr. John Santelli from Columbia University was quoted in the Times as saying that the current generation of youth are “more conscientious and cautious.”
Is there still work left to do? Definitely. For one thing, a dramatic drop in one year can easily be reversed the next year. Still, gradual improvement since the 1990s is no fluke.
Second, according to the Washington Post’s coverage, the United States still ranks horribly when the teenage birth rate here is compared to other industrialized nations. American teens are still twice as likely to give birth, compared to teens in most other first world countries. Even as they celebrate last year’s drop, the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention reminds visitors to their website that the costs for pregnant teens and society remain a problem. They noted everything from lower birth weight babies, to high school drop-out mothers to higher incarceration rates for the children of teen mothers.
The improvement of the past year flies in the face of the overhyped stereotype that today’s kids are all going quickly down the wrong path. Reality television shows and the general prophets of doom across all media have filled the airwaves and Internet with opinions that society is at the worst point ever.
But for teen pregnancies, the facts are not nearly so dark. In fact, the current crop of teens can rightfully say they are doing better than all those before them in this area.
And while it is only one factor affecting youth today, the improvement with teenage pregnancy is a big step in the right direction.