22 December 2010

Teen Births at Record Lows In U.S.

The birth rate for [U.S.] teenagers fell to 39 births per 1,000 girls ages 15-19. . . . It was a 6 percent decline from the previous year and the lowest since health officials started tracking the rate in 1940. . . . The total number of births also has been dropping, as have birth rates among all women except those 40 and older.

For comparison, look to the peak year of teen births — 1957. There were about 96 births per 1,000 teen girls that year, but it was a different era, when women married younger . . . Overall, about 4.1 million babies were born in 2009, down almost 3 percent from 2008.

It's the second consecutive drop in births, which had been on the rise since 2000. . . . A preliminary count of U.S. births through the first six months of this year suggests a continuing drop.

From here citing data from the Center for Disease Control (a federal government agency).

Colorado's teen birth rate followed national trends in declining, and is about 9% less than the national average.

In Colorado, 24.9% of all births are to unmarried mothers, compared to 41.0% of all births nationally. Utah is the only state in the United States with a lower proportion of births to ummarried mothers (19.4%). In, Idaho, which like Utah and unlike Colorado, has a prevasive Mormon cultural influence, 25.6% of births are to unmarried mothers (the lowest in the United States after Utah and Colorado). There is no obvious reason that Colorado is such an outlier in this regard, but this number is consistent from 2008 to 2009. Unlike Utah and Idaho where first marriage ages are far lower than the rest of the nation, Colorado is not particularly atypical in its average ages at first marriage and Colorado is far more ethnically diverse than many states with higher rates of unmarried motherhood. This number is so unexpected that I am suspicious that it might be a mistake, as it does not seem to be a good fit to unmarried motherhood rates in Denver, although Colorado's retention of the institution of common law marriage could also be factor and births in Denver are almost certainly atypical of the state as a whole.

According to the CDC report: "The [birth] rate for the youngest teenagers, 10-14 years, fell from 0.6 to 0.5 per 1,000, the lowest level ever reported. . . . The birth rate for teenagers 15-17 years declined 7 percent to 20.1 per 1,000. This rate dropped 9 percent from 2007 (22.1) to 2009, and was 48 percent lower than the rate reported in 1991 (38.6 per 1,000)."

Teen births are down 59% from their 1957 modern peak, about 33% from their most recent peak in the late 1980s (when I was 15-19 years old), and significantly below the depressed levels of World War II which rebounded from a long period of muted fertility with the baby boom. With the exception of a surge in teen birth rates in the late 1980s and some small, short term statistical blips, teen birth rates have declined steadily from the 1957 peak of the baby boom to the present.

While accurate national teen birth rate statistics go back only to 1940, it is unlikely that there is any time in the history of the United States when teen birth rates have been as low as they are now, because women tended to marry younger, have children immediately upon getting married, end their formal educations sooner, had higher birth rates in generally (in part because fewer children were likely to survive to adulthood), and contraception and abortion were both far less available then. Ages at first marriage are currently at or near near record highs.

We care about teen birth rates as a social indicator, of course, mostly because teen pregnancy creates an acute risk of poverty and reduced socio-economic expectations for both the mother and the children, and because, particularly for the youngest mothers, it is often an indicator of coerced sexual relationships, usually outside marriage or in forced marriages. Low teen birth rates are expected to translate into lower long term poverty rates.

I haven't seen the parallel abortion statistics for 2009 yet, but if the trend of births and abortions the last couple of decades is any indication, the decline in births generally, and in teen births in particular, is almost entirely due to fewer pregnancies, rather than due to a smaller share of pregnancies ending in live births. Abortion rates have fallen at least as fast as teen birth rates.

Births to married mothers fell faster than births to unmarried mothers in 2009, so the share of all births to unmarried mothers rose, reaching 41.0% in 2009.

The 2009 trends were widespread amongst almost all age and ethnic categories, but the actual teen birth rates differed greatly by ethnicity.

The birth rate per 1,000 girls aged 10 to 14 in 2009 by ethnicity was:
Asian or Pacific Islander 0.2
Non-Hispanic White 0.2
American Indian or Native American 0.8
Non-Hispanic Black 1.2
Hispanic 1.0

The birth rate per 1,000 women aged 15 to 17 in 2009 by ethnicity was:
Asian or Pacific Islander 7.1
Non-Hispanic White 11.0
American Indian or Native American 30.6
Non-Hispanic Black 32.6
Hispanic 41.0

The birth rate per 1,000 women aged 18 to 19 in 2009 by ethnicity was:
Asian or Pacific Islander 25.7
Non-Hispanic White 46.1
American Indian or Native American 90.5
Non-Hispanic Black 97.5
Hispanic 114.0

The recession, a weak job market, and declining immigrant populations have been cited as possible factors in the declining birth dates.

The "total fertility rate" in the United States has been below the "replacement rate" at which births match deaths as it has in every year from 1972 to 2009 except 2006 and 2007.

This year's data continues to support the very recent trend (i.e. of the last decade or so), in which poverty has tended to reduce, rather than increase fertility. It is safe to assume that in the one group of women in whom birth rates have risen, women 40 and over, that this is driven almost entirely by affluent women who are getting pregnant with the help of fertility treatments.

To the extent that lower teen birth rates, and indeed lower birth rates generally, are an indicator of a weaker economy, 2010 may very well be the year with the lowest teen birth rate for a very long time, as teen birth rates in the U.S. may rise modestly when the economy recovers, although the fact that teen birth rates remain higher in the U.S. than in much of the rest of the developed world leaves open the possibility that there is more room for a secular decline in teen birth rates in the United States.

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