Media Reports on Teen Birth Decline Forget Abstinence

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 29, 2010   |   2:46PM   |   Washington, DC

When media outlets reported last week on the decline in the number of teen births, one leading researcher says they should have placed emphasis on abstinence education.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control released statistics showing that teen pregnancy rates in the United States have hit a record low. The Washington Post and other media outlets reported the news but focused primarily on sexual education.

The media sources also analyzed the decline by saying the slow economy has caused teens to think twice before giving birth or engaging in sexual activity.

But Dr. Michael New, a political science professor and research on abortion at the University of Alabama, wrote in a new column at National Review: “This focus on the economy as the reason for the teen-birthrate decline is rather puzzling.”

“The early 1990s recession actually coincided with a temporary increase in the teen birthrate and the economic slowdown in the early part of this decade appeared to have little impact on the teen birthrate. Overall, teen birthrates have been falling since the 1950s and the recent decline is fairly consistent with this trend,” he explained.

“A 2006 study by John Santelli, which appeared in the American Journal of Public Heath, found that during the 1990s reductions in the teen-pregnancy rate were caused by both reduced sexual activity among minors and greater contraceptive use among minors,” New said. “However, one of this study’s flaws is that it assumes that minors will use contraceptives as reliably as adults. Since this is not likely the case, this study likely underestimated the impact of reductions in teen sexual activity.”

But New says abstinence education, as usual, received little in the way of credit for reducing the numbers.

“Unfortunately, most of the coverage of the recent teen birthrate decline centered around the economy and on television shows like MTV’s 16 and Pregnant. The benefits of abstinence-only sex education and greater sexual restraint, as always, received scant coverage from nearly all mainstream media outlets,” he said.

Valerie Huber of the National Abstinence Education Association says abstinence is the leading cause for the decline.

“These trends show that the risk avoidance message of abstinence has ‘sticking power’ for young people,” she told the Washington Post. “This latest evidence shows that teen behaviors increasingly mirror the skills they are taught in a successful abstinence education program.”

Jeanne Monahan of the Family Research Council told the Post the de-funding of abstinence education may cause the numbers to go up:  “With a change in policy away from abstinence education, we may expect to see a reversal of the teen pregnancy birth rate in the years to come.”

Looking at the numbers further, the general birth rate for all women fell from 68.6 births per 1,000 females ages 15 to 44 in 2008 to 66.7 in 2009. The total number of births fell from 4,247,694 to 4,131,019 and it appears to be continuing into 2010.

Birth rates for women in their early 20s fell seven percent in 2009, they fell for women in their late 20s and 30s, but older women continued to give birth at higher rates — pushing what may be a trend caused by Hollywood celebrities opting to have children at an older age.