- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 6, 2010

America’s teen birthrate fell in 2008, ending a two-year upward trend, the federal government said in a report released Tuesday morning.

But this welcome news was tempered by evidence that the nation’s fertility rate again has fallen below replacement level, while the portion of births outside marriage rose to an unprecedented 41 percent.

The 2 percent dip in teen births was a relief to teen-pregnancy prevention groups.

“We’re delighted that the uptick didn’t become a trend,” said Sarah Brown, president of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy and Unplanned Pregnancy.

Still, the goal has to be a return to the steady decline in teen birth rates that started in 1991 and continued for 14 years.

“We don’t want this to stall out,” Mrs. Brown said of the new decline.

Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association, also applauded the turnaround and urged the nation to “redouble” its efforts to “help teens avoid all the consequences of sexual activity, including teen childbearing.”

The Obama administration and Congress have created a $110 million teen-pregnancy prevention program to replace the Bush administration’s push for abstinence education. The latter recently won a reprieve, however — a measure by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, to continue the five-year, $50 million-a-year federal funding for the Title V abstinence education grant program was signed into law with the massive health care package.

Today’s preliminary 2008 birth data, released by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), estimates that American women had 4,251,095 births, about 66,000 fewer than in 2007.

This caused the U.S. total fertility rate to fall slightly, to 2.0 children per woman. This means the country is again at “below replacement” fertility, or doesn’t have enough children being born for the population to naturally replace itself, the NCHS said.

Underpopulation is associated with economic downturns, aging populations, stress on pension and social welfare programs, and a need to import more immigrants to make up the numbers.

The new NCHS report also showed that the birth rate among unmarried women fell slightly (52.9 births per 1,000 single women in 2007 and 52.0 births per 1,000 in 2008). But the portion of births to women who were not married rose to a historical high of 40.6 percent.

Conservatives and traditional values groups consistently decry the rise in unwed childbearing because of its costly impact on child well-being and social costs.

But other observers caution that the unwed birthrate is often tied to the marital birthrate.

Whenever married couples’ fertility falls, the proportion of out-of-wedlock births can go up, even if the rate of unmarried births is staying steady or declining, noted Stephanie Coontz, professor of family studies at Evergreen State College and director of research at the Council on Contemporary Families.

So, “contrary to the doomsday projections that this statistic is likely to evoke,” the big story may not be that there’s some continuing escalation of unmarried mothers giving births but that the birth rates to married couples have fallen, she said.

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