Teen pregnancy rates in the United States are lower than they’ve ever been since the government started collecting data. Better access to birth control and a greater understanding of the consequences of teen pregnancy may have something to do with it.
As Reuters reported recently, the teen birth rate dropped to 20 births per 1,000 teen females in 2016. In 1991, when the rate hit a record high, it was at 61 births per 1,000 female teens.
According to a study by the Pew Research Center, Hispanic teens still have more pregnancies while in their teens than their African American and white counterparts. Still, among Hispanic teens, there was a 50 percent decline in teen births when compared to the most recent peak in 2007, while among African American teens, the decline was 44 percent.
Among white teens, the decline has been slower, at 36 percent.
Reuters mentioned that U.S. data support the theory that birth control is behind this major decline since most of the 55 percent of teens who were sexually active by 18 were using some type of protection.
The study added that 80 percent of teens had employed a contraceptive method during their first act of sexual encounter, showing most teens are well-aware of the consequences of not protecting themselves.
But access to birth control methods might not be the only thing shifting national trends.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics researcher Joyce Abma, teens are not as sexually active as they were in the 1990s. The rate of sexually active teens fell considerably in 2002 and has dropped consistently every year since. This coincided with the increase in the use of contraceptives among sexually active teens.
In 2016, 44 percent of teens between 15 and 19 years of age had had sex, while in 1988, 60 percent of teens from the same age group reported being sexually active.
Cultural Trends and Their Impact on Teen Birth Rates
As Abma pointed out, teens are not just using more protection, they are also less sexually active. This trend, which began in 2002, may be due to a series of factors like greater access to the internet, smartphones, and home entertainment, keeping them more home-bound than teens from previous generations. But popular TV shows may also be playing a role in teaching — or should we say, scaring — teens into steering clear from having a more sexually active life.
Teen Mom, MTV’s popular reality-TV show, aired in 2009. It depicts real teen mothers as they navigate the challenges of being young while caring for their babies.
From the moment it first aired until its most recent season, the show may have helped scores of female teens to learn just how motherhood would drastically change their lives. At least, that’s what a study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research found out.
Researchers claim the show reduced teen birth rates by nearly 6 percent in 2010 alone, precisely because of “how influential media is in the lives of young people,” Sarah S. Brown, the chief executive of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, said.
More effective than any government program would have been, the introduction of the internet, increased access to birth control, and the increased awareness that came from a popular TV show obviously helped generations of teens to make better decisions about their own lives.
In the end, no taxpayer-funded program had to be put in place to raise awareness, as the market itself found a way of supplementing the information these young women needed.
It doesn’t take much to let the market help fix the issues we face as a society — all we have to do is unleash it.