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U.S. pregnancy rate continues to fall


By Steven Ross Johnson
Posted: December 5, 2013 - 5:00 pm ET
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The U.S. pregnancy rate fell to a 12-year low in 2009, continuing a trend that has seen a 10% decline since 1990, according to a government report (PDF) released Thursday.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, there were 102 pregnancies for every 1,000 women in 2009, the lowest rate since 1997 and the second-lowest rate in the last 30 years.

Much of the overall decline came from a stark drop in teenage pregnancies from 1990 to 2009. Pregnancy rates for teens ages 15 to 17 declined 53% during the period, while pregnancy rates for women ages 18 and 19 were down by 36%.

The report suggests that women are waiting longer to begin having children, as rates among all age groups studied have decreased except for women over 30, whose pregnancy rates have steadily increased from 1990 to 2009.

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At the same time, the study found that the abortion rate in 2009 was 32% lower than in 1990.

The study found that social determinants, including the Great Recession and the struggling economy over the last several years, may have played a role in the decreases found among younger women, who were more likely to be affected by the recession.

“It's important to look at the age groups and what's going on in the economy and job markets,” said Dr. Julie Levitt, an OB/GYN at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. “A lot of people are going back to school in the recession and postponing their childbearing to try to gain more education before they start their families. That's why we see a lot of those women waiting to start their families.”

Levitt said the findings of the report were consistent with what she saw among her patients. “I would say over time, we're seeing fewer patients who are 25 and younger coming in spontaneously pregnant,” Levitt said. “I typically see women who are 30, 32, 34, or 38, 40, 42, whether they need assisted techniques or not.”

While economics might attribute to the decline in pregnancies for women in their 20s, the decrease in teenage pregnancies may also be due to attitude changes regarding sex and birth control practices.

A 2011 CDC report (PDF) found that the percentage of teenage girls ages 15 to 19 who reported ever having a sexual encounter dropped from 51% in 1988 to 42% in 2010. Meanwhile, 78% of teen girls reported using some form of contraception during their first sexual encounter in 2010, compared with 66% of teen girls in 1988.

Levitt attributed the downward trend in teen pregnancies to an increased focus on sexual education and greater access to contraception, including morning-after pills.

Follow Steven Ross Johnson on Twitter: @MHSjohnson


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