A few weeks ago, I questioned whether conservatives have reasonable grounds to be optimistic about teenagers’ sexual mores. My thoughts were in response to an article by Peter Wehner and Yuval Levin, which argued that the social indicatores point toward progress. With respect to teenage pregnancy, they wrote:
More generally, we are seeing important progress in critical areas of youth behavior. Since 1991 (a peak year), the birth rate for teenagers aged fifteen to nineteen has decreased by 35 percent. The number of high-school students who have reported ever having sexual intercourse has declined by more than 10 percent.
Today the needle on the cultural compass shifted directions. The Center for Disease Control announced that for the first time in 14 years, pregnancies among 15-19 year-olds have risen:
The report shows that between 2005 and 2006, the birth rate for teenagers aged 15-19 rose 3 percent, from 40.5 live births per 1,000 females aged 15-19 in 2005 to 41.9 births per 1,000 in 2006. This follows a 14-year downward trend in which the teen birth rate fell by 34 percent from its all-time peak of 61.8 births per 1,000 in 1991.
“It’s way too early to know if this is the start of a new trend, ” said Stephanie Ventura, head of the Reproductive Statistics Branch at CDC. “But given the long-term progress we’ve witnessed, this change is notable. ”
While no one wants confirmation of their hypothesis that things are not as well as the numbers seem, today’s news serves as a poignant reminder that the deeper causes of adolescent–young adult!–pregnancies are still present among us, even if their expression has shifted the last fifteen years.
(HT: Scott Williams of FamilyLife’s Culture Watch).
Your quotation doesn’t show a rise in teen pregnancies, but in live births.
If fewer teens are engaging in the sorts of activities that result in pregnancy isn’t this actually terrific news for pro-lifers?
The only way I can reconcile various studies you’ve cited is to surmise that a higher percentage of teen pregnancies are resulting in live births.
Elena’s reconciliation of the studies you have cited, if accurate, indicate a clear victory for the pro-life movement–that more teenagers, ill-equipped and unprepared to be parents, are carrying babies to term.
I sincerely hope that they are being adopted instead.
Thanks for the correction on my silly mistake.
“If fewer teens are engaging in the sorts of activities that result in pregnancy isn’t this actually terrific news for pro-lifers?”
It’s good news, for sure. Is it terrific news? Eh…..I’m not sure. The worldview which sanctions abortion seems to be driving them to other forms of sexual encounters, which means pro-lifers have just as far to go as they ever have.
Prufrock, I would say that the only good thing that can come from illicit sex is a baby. Regardless of the circumstances of its birth, isn’t a human life an intrinsic good?
Actually, we don’t know what’s behind these numbers because the CDC isn’t able to track abortions (no reporting requirement) with the accuracy that it tracks live births. Falling live birth rates don’t mean fewer pregnancies, necessarily. With the availability of the abortion pill in addition to traditional abortions, teen pregnancy could be going through the roof while live births remain the same — if teens are availing themselves of pregnancy termination options.
The best evidence on abortion rates is from the Alan Guttmacher Institute (an arm of Planned Parenthood), and it does report a decrease in abortions over the past decade or so. But again, they are unable to say how many women have terminated their pregnancies on their own using the abortion pill.
Polling of young people does suggest a growing reluctance to abort their pregnancies, good news for pro-lifers. But the rise in young, single mothers who are unsupported by a husband is bad news, both for them (then tend to have to drop school to raise their child) and for the children who are raised in single parent households.
I think only easily available birth control can stem the tide of teen pregnancy, and it’s a solution that we Christians have fought and find difficult to support. Children having children seems worse to me than children buying into lies about the benefits of sexual promiscuity.
“Actually, we don’t know what’s behind these numbers because the CDC isn’t able to track abortions (no reporting requirement) with the accuracy that it tracks live births. Falling live birth rates don’t mean fewer pregnancies, necessarily. With the availability of the abortion pill in addition to traditional abortions, teen pregnancy could be going through the roof while live births remain the same — if teens are availing themselves of pregnancy termination options.”
This is a great point. However, there is some evidence that teenage sex is on the decline, which makes it seem like pregnancies would be declining as well (in fact, I see this as a reason why live births have gone down for fourteen years running). However, teenage sexual activity is still high–if not higher–than ever.
Also, I’m not so sure that easily available birth control is the “only” solution to the problem. That seems like it’s going after the branch, not the root, and I tend to think that will never be effective….
I agree with your comment about going after the root instead of the branch. I remember Jesus’ parable about letting the weeds grow up with the wheat, because uprooting the former would also uproot the latter. Seems like the weed of sexual permissiveness is too deeply-rooted to kill. I’ll admit that I may be more pessimistic than I should be on this score.
Children having children is a huge problem, and frankly, I’m enormously pessimistic about it. That’s just what happens when you have children of childbearing age. Birth control doesn’t really solve the problem, because children don’t use birth control responsibly. As for abstinence, well, adults control their desires, but children don’t.
So often, parents focus their efforts on making sure their children don’t “grow up too quickly.” They can’t prevent their bodies from growing up, but they truly can prolong the childhood of the soul.
A child’s soul in an adult body is a very dangerous thing.
But pessimistic as I am about the issue as a whole, I’m still very much encouraged to hear that more pregnant teens are actually giving birth to their babies.
I’m with you on your analysis of “children having children.” However, I don’t see how you’re concluding (from this study) that “more pregnant teens are actually giving birth to their babies.” It seems like the only way that comparison works is if the level of pregnancies has remained static from last year to this. However, if the pregnancy rate went up as well (which we don’t know), then we could hardly say “more” teens are giving birth, at least not in any significant sense of “more.”
A few weeks ago you cited a study showing a decline in teen intercourse.
As you pointed out, this does not necessarily imply improved morals… but it would certainly imply a decline in teen pregnancy.
It’s hard to see how an increased teen birth rate could occur at a time when teens are having less intercourse.
Also, the first study that you linked to reported a decline in abortion. =)
Just in case there’s any doubt:
Whoops! Blipped out there. Meant to say “teen pregnancy rate.” Yes, it’s very clear that the birth rate is rising, both in general and among teen mothers. It’s just not obvious to me what that indicates about the teen pregnancy rate.