Birthrate declines for American teenagers

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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 has fallen below replacement level again, while the portion of births outside marriage crept up to an unprecedented 41 percent.

The 2 percent dip in teen births — from 42.5 births per 1,000 teen girls in 2007 to 41.5 per 1,000 in 2008 — 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, she said, the nation needs to return to the steady decline in teen birthrates 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 abstinence education initiative 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.

Tuesday’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 so that “a given generation can exactly replace itself,” the NCHS said.

After decades of subpar fertility, the nation reached a healthy “replacement” level of 2.1 children per woman in 2006 and 2007.

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 while the birthrate to unmarried women declined slightly (from 52.9 births per 1,000 single women in 2007 to 52.0 in 2008), the actual number of such births went up (from 1,714,643 to 1,727,950, a 1 percent increase) — reflecting an increase in the number of unmarried women. In addition, the portion of births to unmarried women rose to a historical high of 40.6 percent.

Conservatives and traditional values groups consistently decry the rise in unwed childbearing because of its high social costs and negative effects on children’s well-being.

“The dramatic rise of unmarried births among 20-, 30- and even 40-something women has been one of the most troubling family-formation hallmarks of the last half-decade,” said Glenn T. Stanton, director of global family formation studies at Focus on the Family.

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