May 2012

Parents too soon? Teen Pregnancy and Childbearing in the U.S.

Parenting at any age can be challenging, but it can be particularly difficult for teens. Compared with their peers who delay childbearing, teen girls who have babies are:

  • Less likely to finish high school;
  • More likely to be poor as adults;
  • More likely to rely on public assistance; and
  • More likely to have children who have poorer educational, behavioral, and health outcomes over the course of their lives than kids born to older parents.1

For these and many other reasons, a key priority for the Department of Health and Human Services is to reduce teen pregnancies. Keep reading to learn more, including what you can do to help!

Pregnant Teen Girl

Teen Childbearing: Prevalence and Trends

The positive news is that the teen birth rate in the U.S. has declined dramatically since the early 1990s—including a steep drop of nine percent from 2009 to 2010—and is currently at a historic low.2 Overall, the teen birth rate declined by 44 percent between 1991 and 2010, from 61.8 to 34.3 births for every 1,000 adolescent females.3

However, the U.S. teen birth rate is still among the highest in the industrialized world4 and there is wide variation by race/ethnicity and region of the country.5  For example, birth rates for Hispanic and black teens are more than twice that of white teens. And, in 2010, when almost 370,000 babies were born to teen girls between the ages of 15 and 19, the lowest birth rates were reported in the Northeast and upper Midwest, while rates were highest in states across the southern parts of the country.6,7 Check out how your state compares with OAH’s state fact sheets on reproductive health.

Did you know?

STD and pregnancy prevention education in grades 6–8 is particularly important because most students in those grades are not yet sexually active. Learn more.

What Communities Can Do

  • Implement an evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention program in your area. Visit OAH’s searchable database to find a program that was shown effective in reducing teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and behavioral risks that fits the needs of your community.
  • Find out if there is an OAH-funded teen pregnancy prevention program in your area. Check out OAH’s list of grantees to find organizations working in your state and community!
  • Consider creating a youth development behavioral intervention that emphasizes social and emotional competence, improved decision making and communication skills, self-determination, and positive bonding experiences with adult role models, with a goal of reducing sexual risks, as recommended by the Community Preventive Services Task Force.
  • Encourage schools to utilize effective tools and resources that help to reduce sexual risk behaviors among adolescents.
  • Learn more about the reproductive health of adolescents in your state or about how the teen birth rate in your county compares to other counties in your state and across the nation.

What Parents Can Do

Research shows that teens who talk with parents about reproduction and healthy relationships begin to have sex at later ages, use condoms and birth control more often if they do have sex, have better communication with romantic partners, and have sex less often than other adolescents.8

  • Talk about it: Specifically, parents can teach their teen about the kinds of changes to expect during puberty, expectations for their dating and sexual behavior, abstinence and contraception, avoiding teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and HIV/AIDS, and having healthy relationships.
  • Start early: It’s important to begin these conversations early, rather than waiting for one big, “talk.” And be ready to listen to your teen and answer questions that might come up.9
  • Set expectations: Communicate family values and rules about when it’s okay to start dating and your expectations around dating and sexual relationships.10
  • Remember teens need health care support too: Make sure teens continue to have periodic physical exams so their healthcare providers can keep them up-to-date on immunizations, screening and counseling to prevent risky behavior, and as needed, tests for HIV and STDs.

For more strategies on how to get the conversation started and ideas for what to talk about, visit OAH’s Talking with Teens pages on these topics. Healthfinder.gov also has helpful strategies and tips for parents on how they can start and maintain conversations with teens regarding relationships and sexual decisions.

What Healthcare Providers Can Do

Additional Resources

  • Locate a health center for well-child checkups and exams. The Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, aims to improve access to recommended health care services for the entire population, including adolescents. The law expands health insurance coverage for adolescents, and offers new support for preventive services, innovative models of care, and clinical training.11
  • Understand contraceptive options, and get more information on the types of birth control available and their effectiveness at preventing pregnancy at the Office of Population Affairs and the Office on Women’s Health’s websites on contraception. Girlshealth.gov also has a page on contraception.
  • Find family planning services. Federally funded Title X family planning clinics offer low-cost contraceptive services and pregnancy testing for qualifying patients. Find a local Title X-funded clinic here.

Promote adolescent health!

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1 Hoffman, S. D., & Maynard, R. A. (Eds.). (2008). Kids having kids: Economic costs and social consequences of teen pregnancy (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press.

2 Hamilton, B. E., & Ventura, S. J. (2012). Birth rates for U.S. teenagers reach historic lows for all age and ethnic groups. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. Available here.

3 Ibid.

4 United Nations Statistics Division. (2011). Demographic Yearbook 2009-2010. New York, NY: United Nations. Available here.

5 Hamilton, B. E., & Ventura, S. J. (2012). Birth rates for U.S. teenagers reach historic lows for all age and ethnic groups. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. Available here.

6 Ibid.

7 Hamilton, B. E., Martin, J. A., & Ventura, S. J. (2011). Births: Preliminary data for 2010. National Vital Statistics Reports 60(2): Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. Available here.

8 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). Parent and guardian resources. Available here.

9 National Health Information Center. (2012). Talk to your kids about sex. Available here.

10 Ibid.

11 English, A. (2010). The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010: How does it help adolescents and young adults? : Center for Adolescent Health & the Law, National Adolescent Health Information and Innovation Center. Available here.

Last updated: March 10, 2016