- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 24, 2000

Teen birthrates and abortion rates in developed nations have fallen over the past 25 years, says a study of 46 countries.

However, among these countries, the United States still ranks among the highest for teen pregnancies, births and abortions, says the study, being released today by the Alan Guttmacher Institute.

The United States' high ranking comes even as the U.S. teen pregnancy rate fell by 17 percent over the 1990s, says the study, which was written by AGI researchers Susheela Singh and Jacqueline E. Darroch.

The authors say that "broad societal changes" involving work, family and views about sex education are likely driving the overall declines in childbearing.

Twenty-five years of data from 46 industrialized countries shows "substantial decline" in teen birthrates, they write.

In 18 countries, rates fell by more than half between 1970 and 1995, the report says. Exceptions included eight Eastern European countries, which saw declines in teen birthrates in the 1990s, but still had higher rates in 1995 than they had in 1970.

The AGI study found that in 1996, teen birthrates were highest in Armenia, followed by the United States, the Ukraine, and Eastern European countries of Georgia and the Republic of Moldova.

The highest teen abortion rate 56 abortions per 1,000 girls aged 15-19 and highest teen pregnancy rate 101.7 pregnancies per 1,000 teens both occurred in the Russian Federation.

On the low end, 10 countries including several in Western Europe had birth rates of less than 10 births per 1,000 teens.

Many of these countries have adopted a "safe-sex-or-no-sex" approach and strongly promote contraceptives, such as condoms and the pill, the researchers note.

This "pragmatic European approach to teen-age sexual activity" is a "central factor" for why rates have been falling more rapidly in Europe than in the United States, the study says.

The United States struggles with the issue, promoting contraceptives in some venues and sexual abstinence in others.

Both tactics appear to have merit: A recent AGI analysis determined that one-quarter of the decline in teen-age pregnancy rate is due to delayed onset of sexual activity. The rest of the decline is due to improved contraceptive use by sexually active teens, the analysis said.

The authors of the new study say the overall downward trends in teen pregnancies, births and abortions appear to be linked to "broad societal changes" such as:

* More support for women's educational achievement and employment.

* More efforts by young people to delay starting a family until they have finished school and become employed.

* Better sexuality education, especially about contraception.

* More support for pregnancy services and disease prevention among teens.

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