(Photo: Brand X via Getty Images)
The birth rate among teenagers reached another historic low in 2012,
government researchers announced Friday, and there is evidence that a
switch to more effective means of birth control is a factor.
to the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC), the birth rate among young women ages 15
to 19 fell 6 percent last year, to 29.4 births per thousand, the lowest
rate in the 73 years the government has been collecting the data. The
decline was across all racial and ethnic groups.
The 2012 number
is "a considerable one year drop," says pediatrician Dr. John Santelli,
a professor of population and family health at Columbia University who
has no connection to the study. And it follows fairly sizable declines
since 2007, when the rate was 41.5 births per thousand young women ages
15 to 19. In fact, except for a small uptick between 2005 and 2007, the
teen birth rate has been steadily declining since 1991, when it reached
61.8 births per thousand.
"Our data comes from the birth
certificate that parents complete at the hospital and it provides a
wealth of information," says Brady E. Hamilton, a statistician with the
National Center for Health Statistics and the lead author of the report.
But to figure out why the teen birth rate is falling, "we have to rely
on other sources," Hamilton says, such as surveys that the CDC conducts
of high schoolers.
Santelli has studied those and other survey
results. "There is not much evidence of a change in abortion use and not
much change in sexual activity" since 2003, says Santelli. For
example, the percentage of high school kids reporting ever having sexual
intercourse was about 54 percent in 1991, according to the CDC survey,
declined through 2002, and then held steady at about 47 percent through
2011, the last year of available data.
"What we have seen is
greater availability of much more effective birth control methods," says
Santelli. While condom use increased substantially in the 1990s and
early 2000s among high schoolers, it actually declined slightly after
that, according to the CDC survey. At the same time, medical
professionals have increasingly been recommending the IUD, a small,
plastic device that is inserted and left inside the uterus to prevent
pregnancy, says Santelli. While it does not protect against sexually
transmitted diseases, it can be used in combination with a condom, which
does offer such protection.
"Young people sometimes use condoms
incorrectly, and sometimes they forget to use condoms," says Santelli.
"There is almost zero user error with the IUD. Once it is in place, it
works every time."
Beyond teens, the birth rate for women in their
early twenties also declined in 2012, to a new record low of 83.1
births per 1,000 women, while birth rates rose for women in their
thirties and early forties.
"People are starting families later
and later, and these are historical changes and happening worldwide,"
says Santelli. "The last downturn in the economy has accelerated the