Today the National Center for Health Statistics reported that, for the second year in a row, the teen birth rate has increased by about 1 percent, ending a 14-year decline. In 2007, there were about 42.7 births per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 19. The shift is part of an overall increase in fertility; the birth rate for women of all ages is also up 1 percent.
Unsurprisingly, this news has reignited the sex-ed wars, with abstinence-only proponents arguing that their know-nothing approach is needed now more than ever. (In truth, ever since the 1950s, 95 percent of all Americans have had pre-marital sex. Teaching abstinence is to willfully ignore this reality.) Meanwhile, supporters of comprehensive sex-ed are blaming federal abstinence funding for leaving teens ignorant about contraception.
But this small uptick in the teen birth rate may have little to do with education policy. As Nancy Goldstein points out at Broadsheet, the statistic tells us nothing about how many teens actually got pregnant in 2007 -- they may have chosen abortion -- or whether the pregnancies were planned or unplanned. Indeed, evidence suggests the teen abortion rate is decreasing over time, meaning that the overall pregnancy rate may be fairly consistent, but that abortion has become both less available and more stigmatized in many communities.
Regardless of the whys, the United States' high teen birth rate is a major concern, and sets us apart from our developed world peers. Our teen pregnancy rate is more than 10 times that of the Netherlands, for example. The U.K. has a teen birth rate of 26.7 compared to our 42.7. Even traditionally Catholic countries such as Spain and Portugal are light years ahead of us. And lest you think that the United States' teen birth rate is increasing mostly due to immigration, think again: The birthrate actually decreased 2 percent among Latina teens even as it increased 2 percent among whites and Asians and 1 percent among blacks.