- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 9, 2000

The teen birthrate tumbled again last year, bringing the total drop in such births to 20 percent over the last decade, the federal government said yesterday.
The teen birthrate is now at the lowest point since records started being kept 60 years ago, said Stephanie J. Ventura, a researcher with the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), which issued the data.
President Clinton said yesterday he was "very encouraged" by the "impressive strides" the nation had made on one of its most important social problems.
The nation's efforts in welfare reform, child-support enforcement and teen-pregnancy prevention "sent a clear message to young people: Don't get pregnant or father a child until you are ready to take on the responsibility of parenthood," Mr. Clinton said.
Donna E. Shalala, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, also praised the "remarkable progress" made in reducing the teen birthrate.
"The credit for this good news lies squarely with the teens themselves," said Bill Albert, of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, a nonprofit group that seeks to lower teen pregnancy rates by one-third by 2005.
A decade of media campaigns has also worked to "push the button" on teen-pregnancy issues, said Bronwyn Mayden, executive director of the Campaign for Our Children, a Baltimore group that produces abstinence and teen-pregnancy-prevention posters, billboards and materials.
Mrs. Ventura said the declines are due to a combination of teens having less sex; teens using more contraceptives, especially condoms; more teen-pregnancy prevention efforts; and a prosperous economy, because "it's giving teen-agers something to think about," other than starting a family.
The NCHS' preliminary report on 1999 data found that the teen birthrate fell 3 percent in 1999, to 49.6 births per 1,000 teens aged 15 to 19.
This is the lowest teen birthrate since data collection started in 1940, said Mrs. Ventura. The previous low point was in 1986, when there were 50.2 births per 1,000 teens aged 15 to 19.
The 1999 data saw declines in all teen age groups and all teen racial groups, including a nearly 30 percent drop in births among black teens since 1991.
The birthrate for high school girls, aged 15 to 17, plummeted 6 percent in 1999, to 28.7 births per 1,000 girls. This is a 26 percent drop from 1991 and "a record low" for this age group, said Mrs. Ventura.
The NCHS report also found that births to women in their early 20s declined slightly last year, while births to women in their late 20s, 30s and 40s all rose.
"There is a bigger picture of women putting off having children," said Mrs. Ventura.
In the past, she explained, women started having children at a young age and continued in their 30s. "Now we're talking about the first birth being postponed … . That's a definite pattern we've been observing for about 25 years now, since the mid-'70s."
The figures were mixed for births out of wedlock.
The birthrate for unmarried women dipped 1 percent in 1999, to 43.9 births per 1,000 unwed girls and women aged 15 to 44. The 1999 rate was 6 percent lower than in 1994, when the birthrate was 46.9 births per 1,000 single women.
Among teens, the 382,655 births out of wedlock in 1999 was 2 percent lower than in the 390,000 unwed births in 1998.
The portion of births to unwed teens nearly 79 percent was unchanged from 1998 to 1999.
The actual number of births out of wedlock 1.3 million was 1 percent higher than in 1998. This was "due mostly to the continued increase in the number of unmarried women of childbearing age," said the NCHS report.
The portion of births to unwed mothers rose slightly to 33 percent. This number, which indicates that one of three babies born in the United States does not have married parents, is worrisome to many culture watchers.
The NCHS report also said that:
There were 3.9 million U.S. births in 1999, a tiny increase from 1998.
There were 475,745 births to teens aged 15 to 19.
There were 9,049 births to girls aged 10 to 14. This represented less than 1 birth per 1,000 girls in this age group.
The percent of pregnant women who sought prenatal care in their first trimester rose slightly in 1999 to 83.2 percent.

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