Teen Birth Rates Down: Let’s Continue this Trend by Addressing Social Determinants

Friday, September 6, 2013, the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) released preliminary birth data for 2012. State-specific data tables are also available.

Some key highlights from the CDC NCHS report on preliminary birth data for 2012[1]:

Teen Birth Rates

  • The birth rate for teens 15-19 years was down 6% in 2012 (29.4 births per 1,000 teens 15-19 years), yet another historic low for the nation, with rates declining for younger and older teens and for nearly all racial and Hispanic origin groups. 
  • Since 2007, the teen birth rate has dropped almost one third (from 41.5 births per 1,000 teens 15-19 years)and more than half in the years from 1991 (61.8) to 2012 (29.4).
  • The number of births to teens 15-19 dropped 7% during 2011-2012, to 305,420, the fewest since the end of World War II.
  • The 2012 total births to teens was almost one-third fewer than in 2007 (444,899) and less than half the total in 1970, the all-time peak year for the number of teen births (644,708).

Younger Teen Birth Rates

  • Consistent with recent trends, the rate for younger teens fell more during 2011-2012 than the rate for older teens, 8% compared with 5%.
  • The birth rate for the youngest teens, aged 10-14 years, remained at 0.4 births per 1,000 in 2012. Because the female population in this age group declined very slightly, the number of births to under 15-year-olds declined as well during 2011-2012 to 3,674, the fewest since 1946.

Young Adult Birth Rates

  • The birth rate for women in their early twenties, 20-24 years, declined in 2012, to a new record low of 83.1 births per 1,000 women. 
  • The birth rate for women 20-24 years has declined steadily since 2007 at nearly 5 percent annually.

Birth Rates among Racial and Ethnicity Groups

  • Among racial and ethnicity groups, declines from 2011 to 2012 for teens 15-19 years ranged from 3 percent for American Indian/Alaska Native (AIAN) teens to 5 to 7 percent for non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black, Asian and Pacific Islander (API) and Hispanic teens.
  • The largest decline for any population group since 2007 was reported for Hispanic teens, down 39 percent, to 46.3 per 1,000 in 2012.

(*As another related resource, Child Trends posted a helpful analysis on the birth rate data and closing the gap between racial and ethnic groups.)

The continued downward trend in the teen birth rate is promising news. Positive health outcomes are the result of reduced sexual risk-taking behaviors, such as increased correct and consistent use of condoms and contraception, reduced frequency of sex, and delayed initiation of sexual activity.  In comparison to previous sexual behaviors, the CDC notes, “While reasons for the declines are not clear, teens seem to be less sexually active, and more of those who are sexually active seem to be using birth control than in previous years.”

Drilling down to identify the factors causing these positive behavior changes is a bit less straightforward. There is a vast field of research demonstrating that evidence-based programs can reduce sexual risk-taking behaviors. We also know that there are over 500 risk and protective factors influencing sexual risk-taking behaviors, with some of those factors having more influence or a higher amenability to change through programs and services.

President Obama’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative (TPPI) supports the implementation of these evidence-based programs, in an effort coordinating funding and activities across agencies, including the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Adolescent Health (OAH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Division of Reproductive Health (DRH) and Division of Adolescent and School Health (DASH).

While the latest report is encouraging, the data also signal the need for constant and continued effort to empower youth to lead healthy sexual, reproductive, and family lives. When we consider that health disparities persist, and U.S. rates are still higher than all other industrialized nations, the rising HIV and sexually transmitted infection (STI) rates, the changing demographics of the country, and the persistent gaps in rates across racial/ethnic and socioeconomic groups, there is still much to be done, and new, innovative approaches are needed.

Figure 1[2]


Current realities—

  • the persistent health disparities among marginalized youth;
  • the rising and disproportionate HIV and STI rates among youth;
  • the United States’ lagging progress behind other industrialized nations; and
  • the many, many risk and protective factors influencing sexual risk-taking behaviors—

indicate a need to increase our impact, despite the reduction in birth rates for 2012.

With these realities in mind, Healthy Teen Network developed its 2013-2016 Strategic Plan, a Road Map for the Future of Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health. Healthy Teen Network promotes a social-ecological health promotion frame because it supports communities to recognize, explore, and address the social and environmental factors—the social determinants of health—that influence citizens’ health and learning, particularly as they relate to risk-taking behaviors.

Figure 3[3]

Social-Ecological Health Promotion Frame


The social-ecological health promotion frame changes our way of thinking about what we do and what young people need to thrive, such as addressing issues of housing, food, education, employment, and more, as these social determinants impact the health and well-being of young people.

Using the ecological frame can help build collaboration beyond our field and achieve better outcomes for youth across diverse populations.

Evidence-based programs, such as those funded through Obama’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative have contributed greatly to the continued downward trend in teen birth rates, and Healthy Teen Network believes in the critical importance of these evidence-based programs. However, as a national community, we must explore new methods to address the needs of populations not addressed within the current repertoire of evidence-based programs, as well as those populations who need attention on a range of social determinants, beyond health education. And so, Healthy Teen Network promotes research-based approaches, innovative programs, and new partnerships.

We believe, with this attention to research-based and innovative approaches, new partnerships, and populations of need, we can increase our impact, continuing the promising downward trend, while also addressing health disparities. Society has an obligation to all adolescents and young adults, including teen parents, to have access to these opportunities in order to lead healthy and fulfilling lives.

How do you work to incorporate social determinants in your work with youth?

How can we work to collaborate with new and diverse partners, to address social determinants?

Gina Desiderio

Gina Desiderio

Gina Desiderio is the Director of Marketing and Communications at Healthy Teen Network

[1] Hamilton B.E., Martin J.A., Ventura S.J. Births: Preliminary data for 2012. National vital statistics reports; vol 61 no 5. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2012. Available from: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr62/nvsr62_03.pdf

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2010 Sexually Transmitted Diseases Surveillance. http://www.cdc.gov/std/stats10/adol.htm. Retrieved April 30, 2013.

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