Birth rates to Oklahoma teen girls 18 and 19 declines over two decades

Friday, January 14th 2005, 5:36 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Birth rates to Oklahoma teens ages 18 and 19 have declined in the past two decades, but the state is still sixth in the nation in the number of births in that category.

A study by United Way of Central Oklahoma researcher Craig Knutson found that birth rates in that age group of young women fell 26%, from 6,564 live births in 1983 to 4,855 live births in 2003.

In Oklahoma County, there were 1,003 live births in 2003 to mothers ages 18 and 19, down 22% from 1,282 in 1983. The county is home to 19% of the state's population but 20% of annual births.

The decline in Oklahoma mirrors a national trend, Knutson said.

"Yes, the rate is coming down, but it's still notoriously high," Knutson said. "This problem is not going away."

About two-thirds of births to Oklahoma teens are to women ages 18 and 19. Of those mothers, about 30% already have had a child. Three of four teen mothers are unwed, and they are more likely to live in poverty and skip college, statistics show.

"It's the loss of human potential. When you start from a disadvantaged perspective, it's virtually impossible for them to catch up," Knutson said.

It's difficult for government and social services groups to reach 18- to 19- year-olds because many are no longer in school, may be unemployed and are scattered throughout the community.

The state is working to prevent teen births and help young mothers, the study said.

The state Health Department's prevention program targets middle school students with a curriculum focusing on education and abstinence.

Several nonprofit groups, such as Catholic Charities and Birth Choice, offer shelter and assistance to unwed mothers.