Although teen births fell to their lowest rate in two decades, younger teens still make up a quarter of all teen childbirths in the U.S., an age group that health officials say is particularly vulnerable to the negative social outcomes associated with teen pregnancy.
More than one in four of the 305,000 teens who gave birth in 2012 were between ages 15 and 17, according to the findings from a study published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
's latest issue of its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report
released Tuesday. This accounts for nearly 1,700 teen child births a week.
The findings raise concerns despite a decline of more than 80% in the rate of childbirths over the past 20 years among mothers between ages 15 and 19—from 84 per 1,000 teens in 1991 to 29 per 1,000 in 2012. The rate among younger girls, those 15 to 17 years old, declined, too, but not as rapidly. It was down 63% during the same period, from 38 per 1,000 in 1991 to 14 per 1,000 in 2012.
Also, the study's findings showed disparities among racial and ethnic groups. Birth rates in the younger age group in 2012 were 25 per 1,000 for Hispanics and 22 per 1,000 for blacks, compared with eight per 1,000 for younger white teens, and four per 1,000 among Asians.
Birth rates among the younger teens were highest in the District of Columbia, New Mexico and Texas, while New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine recorded the lowest rates.
Although the study found that nearly all younger teens who were surveyed reported having some form of sex education, only 60% reported receiving that information before their first sexual experience, which researchers say misses the chance for early interventions that focus on providing information about both abstinence and the proper use of contraceptives.
“The younger teen years—that is 15 to 17—are a critical time when a young woman could jeopardize her future if she can't complete high school or college,” said Ileana Arias, CDC principal deputy director. “We urge health professionals to provide young people with support and the opportunity to empower themselves.”
The findings were derived from data in the National Vital Statistics System and the National Survey of Family Growth.Follow Steven Ross Johnson on Twitter: @MHsjohnson