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Births to high-school girls fall to record low

Updated:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Births to teen-agers fell for a seventh straight time last year, with births to girls of high school age hitting a record low, the government said Monday.

Overall, births to teens ages 15 to 19 dropped by 2 percent from 1997, and were down 18 percent since 1991.

But policy-makers are most concerned about girls 15 to 17, who are still in high school. Births to this group fell 5 percent last
year-- down to 30.4 births for every 1,000 teens. That rate has dropped 21 percent since 1991 -- when it was 38.7 births -- and is
the lowest rate in at least four decades.

Donna Shalala, secretary of Health and Human Services, called the news "very encouraging" but pressed communities to accelerate their efforts at pregnancy prevention.

"You have to organize locally and be in there for the long term," she said, releasing a guide for local community groups working on the issue.

Analysts point to a number of reasons for the drop. Surveys show fewer teens are having sex and they're using more reliable forms of
birth control, including long-lasting implants and injections. Fear of AIDS has also increased use of condoms.

"We all believe AIDS has scared teen-agers," Shalala told reporters.

The reduction in births to teen-agers is "not surprising because we've been seeing these drops since 1991. It's more good
news," said T.J. Mathews, a co-author of the report and a demographer at the National Center for Health Statistics, a branch
of HHS.

The birth rate among the youngest teens and preteens, ages 10 to 14, also fell 6 percent, to its lowest level since 1969. Still, there were 9,481 babies born to these very young moms last year.

To calculate the teen pregnancy rate, the birthrate numbers must be combined with data on abortions and estimates of miscarriages, and the report gave final calculations for 1996: There were 98.7
pregnancies for every 1,000 teens ages 15 to 19, the lowest rate since 1976, when these statistics were first reliably collected.

The new report also included state-by-state birth rates for 1997, and rates ranged significantly across the country. In
Vermont, just 2.7 percent of teen girls gave birth; in Mississippi, the rate was almost three times as high, with nearly 7.4 percent of
teens having babies.

In 1998 overall, there were 51.1 live births for every 1,000 women, ages 15 to 19, meaning 5.1 percent of them had babies last
year.

The report also found:
--The sharpest drops in birth rates have been to black teens, with their numbers falling 26 percent since 1991, and to the lowest
point since 1960, when data on black women first became available.

--The rate for Hispanic women has fallen steadily since 1994, dropping by 13 percent in four years.

--Between 1991 and 1997, teen-age birth rates fell in every state, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands. The drops were statistically significant in every area except Rhode Island
and Guam. And the declines exceeded 20 percent in 10 states and the District of Columbia.



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