A recent study from the National Center for Health Statistics reports that teen birth rates in the U.S. have hit a record low: “31.3 births per 1,000 girls and women” between the ages of 15 and 19. These rates have been going down for a number of years, but this represents an eight percent decline in a single year (2010 to 2011), which is pretty impressive. Overall, teen birth rates have fallen 49 percent since 1991.
While the study just looks at the numbers, and not factors that may have led to the drop, researchers have suggested several reasons that could be contributing to the decline. Teens are delaying the age at which they begin having sex, and it is becoming more common for teenagers to use contraception—including methods that were once recommended primarily for older women, such as the IUD.
Indeed, the fact that both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Centers for Disease Control have recommended that teen girls and women consider IUDs and hormonal drug implants is significant in and of itself, aside from any role that such methods may have played in lowering the teen birth rate. The IUD has fought an uphill battle to be recognized as a safe and effective form of birth control, and until recently it, and other implants, could cost hundreds of dollars.
And, as a friend reminded me a few days ago, it wasn’t that long ago that doctors were reluctant to prescribe IUDs for adult women that had never been pregnant. My friend vividly recalled her disbelief when, several years ago, her OB/GYN refused to give her an IUD. This was despite the fact that she had researched the risks and benefits of various forms of birth control and decided that the IUD was the most appropriate method for her. She eventually found a physician that agreed to prescribe and place the device—a man who, although in his 70s, was more open-minded and aware of the current literature than the first doctor, who was in her early 40s.
While there are doubtless many reasons to explain the declining teen birth rate–and I hope that studies examining these reasons are forthcoming–this is unequivocally good news. If this trend continues, maybe one day the U.S. won’t have one of the highest teen birth rates among developed countries!
Sarah's first book, Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement, will be out March 2013. For more information, follow her on Twitter @saraherdreich, or check out saraherdreich.com.