Across the nation fewer and fewer teens are giving birth, especially Hispanic girls, according to a new government report.
Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that from 2007 to 2011, the overall rate of teen births plummeted a full 30 percent. The biggest decline was among Hispanic teens, whose birth rate dropped 34 percent. Among non-Hispanic black teens there was a decline of 24 percent. Among white, non-Hispanic teens, the rate decreased by 20 percent.
“The thing that surprised me most was the big decline in rates for Hispanics: at least 40 percent in 22 states and the District of Columbia,” said Brady Hamilton, a report co-author and a statistician at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. “That was pretty impressive. It really caught my eye.”
Hamilton suspects that public service messages are starting to resonate with teens. “Teen births are the focus of many public policies,” he said. “I think this shows the message is getting out.”
That makes sense to Dr. Carlos Lerner, medical director of the Children’s Health Center at the University of California, Los Angeles. “In settings like ours, we make sure we provide information in a culturally sensitive way in the patient’s own language,” he explained. “As we’ve learned to do that better, I think the message has been becoming more and more effective.”
The most important part of counseling teens may be finding a way to give the information in a non-judgmental way, Lerner said.
Higher rates of secondary and college education might also play a role in the declining birth rates in Hispanics, experts said.
Based on U.S. Census data, “it does look like both high school and college graduation rates are going up more quickly for Latina women in the 2007-2010 period than for the general population,” said Stefanie Mollborn, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Colorado Boulder. “That would be really interesting potential explanation, since education tends to be strongly related to postponing childbearing.”
The decline could also be related to the growing number of second generation Hispanics in the U.S., said Rogelio Sáenz, a sociologist and demographer and dean of the College of Public Policy at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
“From a separate analysis based on the American Community Survey (2007-2011), the drop in [births] among Latinos is slightly higher among native-born Latinas compared to foreign-born Latinas,” Sáenz said.
Another factor, Sáenz suggested, could be the increasing numbers of young Latino women who choose to remain single. That demographic change may also affect the long range birth rate among these women, he said.
As for the overall decline in the teen birth rate, that might be related to the economy, Mollborn said.
“The drop in the teen birth rate mirrors a fairly large drop in the overall U.S. birth rate - to women of all ages - during the same period,” she explained. “This coincides with the Great Recession. Many people are less likely to have children when they're experiencing economic troubles. Since most teen mothers are in or near poverty and come from disadvantaged backgrounds, it's not surprising that they would be especially likely to have fewer births during these difficult economic times.”