Teen Birth Rates Plummet For Hispanic And Black Girls

 (NPR)
(NPR)

The nation's falling teen birth rate saw an even bigger drop over the past decade, with dramatic declines among Hispanic and black teens.

Birth rates are down a whopping 51 percent among Hispanics age 15 to 19 since 2006, and down 44 percent among black teens, according to a survey of census data by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Teen pregnancy rates among whites also fell by a third.

"It's really a one-two punch," says study co-author Shanna Cox, associate director for science for the CDC's Division of Reproductive Health. "Teens are having less sex, and among the teens who are having sex, they're using more effective methods of birth control."

The study finds the use of long-acting contraceptives like IUDs and implants jumped from 1 percent of teens a decade ago to 7 percent in 2014. While teen birth rates for minorities are still nearly double that for whites, the CDC finds that disparity has shrunk in many areas.

Still, Cox says the study also shows that teen birth rates can vary widely by place, even by county within the same state, and that there's a strong connection with socioeconomic factors.

Regardless of race, teen birth rates are higher where unemployment is higher and education and income rates are lower. The CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services have been working with nine communities with some of the highest teen birth rates in the country to develop broad efforts to address all of this.

"So for example, we can work with job skills training," Cox says. "We can work with sports, community service." The goal, she says, is "really thinking about ways we can promote teens finishing school, planning for their future and being engaged in their communities."

The report names other efforts that have been effective in reducing teen birth rates:

Examples of activities included presenting community-specific teen birth data to civic leaders; encouraging health care providers to offer evening and weekend hours and low-cost services to increase access; having teen-focused, culturally appropriate materials available dur­ing health care visits; and implementing evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention programs to reach teens of both sexes both inside and outside of schools (e.g., through Job Corps, alternative schools, churches and community colleges.)

Last year the federal government expanded these kinds of efforts to 84 communities.

The recent decline is part of a longer downward trend in teen birth rates since 1991. But teen pregnancy in the U.S. remains higher than in many other developed countries.

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