Teen Birth Rate Lowest in 60 Years


Tuesday, August 8th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


ATLANTA (AP) — Births to teen-agers have fallen to their lowest rate in the 60 years that statistics have been kept, a government agency said Tuesday.

Births to girls ages 15 to 19 dropped last year to 49.6 per 1,000, down 3 percent from 1998 and 20 percent from 1991, according to preliminary numbers from the National Center for Health Statistics.

It was the eighth consecutive year of decline in addition to being the lowest rate since record-keeping started, the NCHS said.

Government analysts said more teen-agers than ever understand the importance of safe sex and more teens are abstaining from sex altogether.

Even the nation's booming economy has played a role, encouraging teens to take well-paying jobs and wait to have children, they said.

``Teens see there's more to do with their lives,'' said NCHS demographer Stephanie Ventura. ``They can see there's some hope for something else besides having a child, which they're not ready to do.''

The drop was particularly sharp among girls ages 15 to 17, whose rate fell 6 percent to 28.7 births per 1,000. Births fell 2 percent among 18-to-19-year-olds and 4 percent among girls ages 10 to 14, said the NCHS, a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The NCHS also said teen-age birth rates fell in the 1990s across racial lines. The most dramatic drop came among black teens, whose rate dropped 38 percent from 1991 to 1999.

The nation's highest teen birth rate was in 1957, roughly 96 births per 1,000. Analysts pointed out that in the 1940s and 1950s, when the statistics were first kept, people married younger because a high-school education often was sufficient to get a job and support a family.

Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala said many factors share the credit for the steady drop in teen births.

``Parents, local communities, government and teens themselves have all been part of writing this success story,'' Shalala said in a statement.

The report said the Southeast leads in the proportion of teen-agers having babies. Mississippi topped the list with 19.7 percent of births in 1999 to women under 20, a rate 61 percent higher than the national figure of 12.2 percent.

The regions with the lowest proportion of births to women under 20 were New England and the Midwest. Minnesota reported the lowest figure, at 6.5 percent.

NCHS also reported a drop Tuesday in births to unmarried teens, a record number of women receiving prenatal care and a rise in births by Caesarean section.

The proportion of infants born at low birthweight in 1999 was 7.6 percent, unchanged from the previous year. Low-weight births have risen gradually since the mid 1980s.

Last month, the CDC reported that the teen-age pregnancy rate fell 8 percent from 1995 to 1997 and has declined every year since 1991.