Guttmacher Institute Misleads on Why Teen Births Declined

Opinion   |   Michael New, Ph.D.   |   May 8, 2012   |   10:14AM   |   Washington, DC

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report which showed that the teenage birthrate continued its decline, falling by 9 percent between 2009 and 2010. This reduction was widespread; the rate fell among all racial groups and in nearly all of the 50 states. Overall, fewer babies were born to teenagers in 2010 than in any year since the mid-1940s.

Not surprisingly, the Guttmacher Institute, in their typical self-congratulatory way, was quick to argue that increased contraception use was primarily responsible for the recent teen birthrate decline. They cite data from a recent National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG). It shows increases in the percentage of teens using various contraceptive methods, with no corresponding decline in the percentage of teens who are sexually active.

However, the Guttmacher analysts overstate their case. First, the Guttmacher analysts make no mention of the fact that the NSFG data also show that the percentage of teens trying to get pregnant declined as well during this time period. Additionally, even though the NSFG data show that the percentage of sexually active teens increased slightly, it fails to analyze the frequency of teen sexual activity.

Finally, the CDC report contains no data on the teen abortion rate. It is possible a short-term increase in the teen abortion rate might be responsible for the reduction in the teen birthrate.



Overall, there has been a broad downward trend in both teen pregnancies and teen abortions during the past 30 years. In fact, the minor abortion rate has actually fallen faster than the adult abortion rate during this time span. There are many reasons for this. However, there are CDC studies which show that minors have become less likely to engage in sexual activity. Furthermore, there are peer-reviewed studies which show that reductions in teen sexual activity has played a role in the teen pregnancy decline. Unfortunately, such research typically receives scant attention from the mainstream media. Note: Dr. Michael New is a political science professor at the University of Michigan–Dearborn and holds a Ph.D. from Stanford University. He is a fellow at Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey.