The NCSL Blog


By Megan Comlossy

Think you know the stats on teen pregnancy and childbearing in your state? The facts may surprise you. Read on to “bust” some of the more common misconceptions, or check out NCSL’s updated interactive map to see where your state stands.

Myth: Teen pregnancy and birth rates are increasing.

Fact: False! In little more than two decades, teen pregnancy has fallen 42 percent and teen births have declined by more than half—52 percent to be precise.

Yet, according to a survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, nearly half of American adults incorrectly believe the teen pregnancy rate has increased. Less than one in five correctly believe the rate has declined.

Despite this progress, the U.S. teen birth rate continues to be one of the highest in the industrialized world: Three in 10 girls will be pregnant at least once before their 20th birthday. Nearly one in five teen moms will have a second child during her teen years.

Myth: Teen birth rates are declining only among certain racial and ethnic groups.

Fact: Since 1991, the birth rate among teens aged 15 to 19 has fallen among all racial and ethnic groups. Rates have tumbled anywhere from 53 percent among non-Hispanic white teens to 64 percent among Asian or Pacific Islander teen girls. Among Hispanic teen girls, the two-decade decline stands at 56 percent. It is 59 percent among Native American or Alaska Natives and 63 percent among non-Hispanic black teens.

This downward trend continued in the most recent year for which data are available; from 2011 to 2012, teen birth rates declined 3 percent for Native American or Alaska Native teens, 5 percent for Asian or Pacific Islanders, and 6 percent to 7 percent for white, black, and Hispanic teenagers.

Despite this significant progress, however, disparities persist. In 2012, the birth rate among Hispanic and non-Hispanic black teen girls remained more than twice the birth rate among non-Hispanic white teens in 2012—46.3 per 1,000 Hispanic teens, compared to 43.9 per 1,000 non-Hispanic black teens and 20.5 non-Hispanic white teens.

Disparities also persist across geographic regions, rural and urban areas and among age groups.

Myth: Teen pregnancy and childbearing is an “urban” problem.

Fact: Not quite. While the vast majority of teen births occur in metropolitan regions, teens in rural counties are at higher risk of pregnancy. A 2013 study found that the teen birth rate in rural counties is nearly one-third higher than the rest of the country—higher than that in suburban areas and even major urban centers. In fact, the study shows that as the level of urbanization decreases, the teen birth rate progressively increases.

Myth: All states have similar rates of teen childbearing.

Fact: State teen birth rates span a wide range. In 2012, 13.8 per 1,000 teen girls in New Hampshire gave birth, compared to 45.5 per 1,000 in New Mexico.  The national teen birth rate lay somewhere in the middle—at 29.4 births per 1,000 teen girls.

While all states have seen declines since the 1990s, teen birth rates have fallen more in some states than others. Between 2011 and 2012 alone, rates fell in 29 states and Washington, D.C., ranging from 4 percent in Louisiana to 15 percent in Delaware.  In the other 21 states, rates remained essentially unchanged.

Megan Comlossy is a policy specialist with NCSL’s Health Program.


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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.