Although teen pregnancy and birth rates have dropped the past two decades, states still face the reality that black and Latina teens are more than twice as likely as white teens to become pregnant.
Despite this, black and Latina girls are more than twice as likely as white girls to become pregnant before they leave adolescence. This glass half-full, half-empty scenario is a dilemma that continues to confound states. The racial and ethnic disparities surrounding teen pregnancy are stubborn, often a cause and consequence of poverty and a complex array of societal factors.
Teen pregnancies are usually unplanned and come with a steep price tag, costing U. Department of Health and Human Services. Some states like Mississippi have found innovative ways to tackle the problem by targeting specific populations, while others like Kansas are serving up bills that make it more difficult for teens to access sex education, which is a critical component of preventing pregnancy in adolescence, according to advocates such as the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
To truly solve the problem, these advocates argue, there needs to be a multipronged approach involving funding from the federal government and from the states, as well as intensive community outreach and culturally specific programming. And that needs our full and undivided attention. Progress has been made in all 50 states and among all racial and ethnic groups, according to Albert. Since , the overall teen birth rate has declined by 57 percent.
The most dramatic decreases were among teens of color. Birth rates among white teens declined 57 percent during that time. A variety of factors contributed to the decline. Since the s, there has been an increased use of highly effective, low maintenance birth control methods like the IUD and contraceptive implants, according to Albert.
Above all, teens are having less sex for a variety of reasons, from the Great Recession to peer pressure to watching cautionary horror stories on reality TV. Girls of color are much more likely to become pregnant. Among non-Hispanic white teens, the birth rate in was 19 births per 1,, while among black teens, it was 39 births per 1, Latina teens have the highest birth rate, at 42 births per 1, teens.
Poverty plays a big role in high teen birth rates, as does geography. Rural teens have higher rates of pregnancy than do urban and suburban teens. Southern states, which tend to be poorer and have the highest rates of HIV infections, also report the highest number of teen births.
Education and access to contraceptives play a larger role in teen pregnancy rates than do cultural or religious differences, teen advocates suggest. Poor teens of color are less likely to have access to quality health care and contraceptive services, and are much more likely to live in neighborhoods where jobs and opportunities for advancement are scarce, according to Gail Wyatt, a clinical psychologist and sex researcher at UCLA.
Young disadvantaged women need to hear positive reasons about the benefits of avoiding early pregnancy, Albert said. The agency focuses on communities where there are high rates of teen pregnancies and birth, particularly among African-American and Latina youth, she said.
The CDC uses a five-pronged approach to address the problem, she said: The program consists of six one-hour classes among small groups of teens and incorporates role-playing, music and video games to educate youth about abstinence and condom use. The program emphasizes Latino values of family and specific gender roles in the community. Earlier this year, Gov. In Mississippi, births among older teens ages , a key demographic at community colleges, accounted for 70 percent of all teen births in the state in But not all states are taking that approach.
In Kansas, legislators last month introduced a bill that would require schools to obtain written parental consent to teach sex education. Another bill would make teachers criminally liable for displaying some sex education materials. Education groups have lobbied strenuously against the bill, arguing that it would severely restrict the materials that teachers could use in the classroom.
In Indiana, meanwhile, a bill aimed at lowering teen pregnancy recently failed to make it out of legislative committee. Advocates for teen health say that comprehensive, medically accurate sex education is a vital tool in combatting teen pregnancy.