Teen pregnancy, birth and abortion rates plummet to historic lows

18 year-old mother Kasiyah Buckner lifts her daughter into her car outside of St. Paul Lutheran in St. Joseph, Mo., May 9, 2013.
18 year-old mother Kasiyah Buckner lifts her daughter into her car outside of St. Paul Lutheran in St. Joseph, Mo., May 9, 2013.

Teen pregnancy, birth and abortion rates have declined to historic lows over the last 30 years, according to a new study, evidence researchers say shows efforts to prevent unwanted pregnancies are starting to work.

A study released this week by the Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit reproductive health group, found teen pregnancy rates plummeted in 2010, with 57.4 pregnancies out of 1,000. The drop marks a full 51% decline from its peak in 1990, while teens aged 15 to 19 accounted for a 15% dip in pregnancies in the last two years of data alone, from 2008 to 2010.

According to the report, women aged 18 to 19 made up a majority of teen pregnancies, 69%. And though an increasing proportion of teens in that age group said they were sexually active, fewer became pregnant.

“The decline in the teen pregnancy rate is great news,” lead author Kathryn Kost said in a statement. “Other reports had already demonstrated sustained declines in births among teens in the past few years; but now we know that this is due to the fact that fewer teens are becoming pregnant in the first place.”

Meanwhile, the teen birth rate declined 44% from its peak in 1991, with 34.4 births per 1,000 women in 2010. The teen abortion rate accounted for the steepest dip since its peak, with a 66% decline since 1988, when the rate was 43.5 abortions per 1,000. In 2010, that dropped to 14.7 per 1,000.

Why the decline in all three categories? 

“It appears that efforts to ensure teens can access the information and contraceptive services they need to prevent unwanted pregnancies are paying off,” Kost said.

The dramatic drop in teen pregnancy and birth rates comes after researchers for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that most sexually active women didn’t learn about abstinence or birth control until after they had lost their virginity. In a report released last month, researchers said the poor timing “represents a missed opportunity to introduce medically accurate information,” after 83% of teens said they started having sex before they had formal sex education.

Despite the ongoing declines, Guttmacher researchers found that New Mexico has the nation’s highest pregnancy rate with 80 per 1,000 women. Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma join the top of the list.

States with the lowest pregnancy rates were predominantly in the North East, with New Hampshire seeing 28 pregnancies per 1,000, followed by Vermont, Minnesota, Massachusetts and Maine.