The teen birth rate in U.S. has fallen to a record low, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But there is no room for complacency, warn experts.
The 2009 birth rate of 39.1 births per 1,000 teens is down 6 percent from the 2008 rate of 41.5 births per 1,000. This is the lowest ever recorded in seven decades of tracking teenage childbearing, the CDC report says. Birth rates for younger and older teens and for all race/ethnic groups reached historic lows in 2009.
The data are based on nearly 100 percent of birth records collected in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. The report from CDC's National Center for Health Statistics also notes declines in the overall fertility ratethe average number of births that a group of women would have over their lifetimesand the total number of U.S. births.
The general fertility rate fell from 68.6 births per 1,000 females aged 15-44 per year in 2008 to 66.7 in 2009. The total number of births declined from 4,247,694 in 2008 to 4,131,019 in 2009. This decline appears to be continuing into 2010, based on early birth counts from January-June of this year.
The total number of births to unmarried mothers declined in 2009, the first decline since 1997. The rate of births per 1,000 unmarried mothers also declined for the first time since 2002. However, because total births declined more than unmarried births, the percentage of births to unmarried mothers rose slightly in 2009, to 41 percent of all U.S. births compared to 40.6 in 2008.
The birth rate for women in their early twenties fell 7 percent in 2009, the largest decline for this age group since 1973. The rates also fell for women in their late twenties and thirties. The birth rate for women in their early forties increased in 2009.
The preterm birth rate declined for the third straight year in 2009, to about 12.2 percent of all births.
The cesarean delivery rate rose to a record high of 32.9 percent in 2009, up from 32.3 in 2008. The cesarean rate has increased every year since 1996, when the rate was 20.7.
The low birthweight rate was essentially unchanged between 2008 and 2009 at less than 8.2 percent in 2009, but down slightly from the record high of 8.3 in 2006.
The full report is available at www.cdc.gov/nchs.
Brady E. Hamilton of the National Center for Health Statistics, stated, "The decline in teen births is really quite amazing." Hamilton helped perform the preliminary analysis.
Sarah Brown of the Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancies said, "Just in time for the holidays, a steep decline in teen birth has been announced. We are, thankfully, back on track."
Experts continue to speculate about the reason for the record low birthrate among young women. Some attribute it to the recession since the overall fertility rate and birthrate in the US declined for two years straight.
Samuel Preston, a professional of demography at the University of Pennsylvania, said, "I would not have guessed that teenagers would be most responsive to the economic downturn, but maybe we need to revise our stereotypes."
There are cautionary notes, though. The challenge of pregnancy prevention starts anew as each generation reaches the teens, said Brigid Riley of the Minnesota Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Prevention and Parenting. "There's no time for complacency, since there is a new crop of 13-year-olds this year, and there will be another new crop next year, and so on and so on."
Riley advocates education that includes birth control, and cited several studies showing the abstinence approach to be ineffective. However, the strong debate over the approach might have helped cut the birth rate.
"The controversy may have had an influence because it kept sex ed in the news," she said. "It kept teenage pregnancy prevention in the news."
Campaigns such including MTV's "16 and Pregnant" series and Washington initiative to raise awareness about birth control and abstinence might have made an impact.
John Santelli of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, said, "Although the data are preliminary, it looks like improved contraceptive use is again driving the decline in teen birth rates."