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Teen maternity rates fall sharply

Resource type: News

The Seattle Times |

Washington teenagers are having babies at the lowest rate since the 1970s, even outpacing a national decline among women who become mothers before they turn 20. In 2004, there were 31 births for every 1,000 Washington teens aged 15 to 19, according to a report released Thursday by Child Trends, a children’s advocacy organization in Washington, D.C. That was almost half the rate in 1970, and it continued a decadelong drop in teen birth rates both nationally and in the state. Nationally, New Hampshire had the lowest teen birth rate in 2004, with 18 births per 1,000 female teens, compared with a national average of 41 births per 1,000. Texas had the highest rate with 63 births per 1,000. Washington ranked 12th-lowest. Several factors are helping the sharp decline, said Celia Thomas, a family-planning health educator with Public Health – Seattle & King County. Here and across the nation, teens are waiting longer to begin having sex. They have fewer sexual partners, and they are more likely to use condoms or other forms of birth control. Still, while the trend is heartening, the numbers are still too high, said Child Trends’ Jennifer Manlove, who helped to prepare the report. For instance, American teens have the highest birth rate among all developed countries. Babies of teenagers are more likely to be born prematurely or underweight than other newborns, according to the report. The babies also are more likely to be raised in poverty and more than twice as likely to have an unmarried mother. Teen birth rates are at recent historic lows for all ethnic and racial groups. But stark disparities still persist, with Hispanic and non-Hispanic black teens getting pregnant, giving birth and getting abortions at two and three times the rate of white teens. Even so, teen abortion rates have been declining even faster than teen birth rates. Between 1990 and 2002, the U.S. teen birth rate dropped by 28 percent while teen abortion rates fell by 46 percent, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Washington’s birth rate fell 41 percent from 1990 to 2004. Out of every seven teen pregnancies in the U.S. in 2002, four ended with a live birth, two were aborted and one ended in miscarriage. Among U.S. females ages 15 to 19, pregnancy rates fell by 35 percent to 76 pregnancies per 1,000 teens from 1990 to 2002.

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