From the Greek meaning 'heavy with wine'
A blog devoted to science and reason
Written after a glass or two of Pinot Noir.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Making Babies

I got involved in a discussion on Facebook on teen pregnancy.  It started like this - "So what's the best way to end teen pregnancies?"  Usually I'm not one to enter a conversation without having data at hand to support my position, but I entered this one with a smartass comment about Bristol Palin and her father Todd.  I suspended my participation for a couple of reasons, but now that I've done my homework, I'm ready to respond.

In 2008, the teen pregnancy rate was 67.8 per 1,000 women aged 15 through 19. (1)  In 1990, it reach a peak of 117 pregnant teens per 1,000.  So something right is happening when the rate declines by 42%.

(2) Fast Facts: Teen Pregnancy in the United States, The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/resources/pdf/FastFacts_TeenPregnancyinUS.pdf

Could the reason be the seemingly increased religious fervor being seen in segments of US society?  Surprisingly, the answer is no.  A 2009 study shows "conservative religious beliefs predict teen birth rates highly and significantly." (3) One of the authors suggests "that religious communities in the US are more successful in discouraging the use of contraception among their teenagers than they are in discouraging sexual intercourse itself." (4) This conclusion is based almost 36,000 religiosity responses collected by the Pew Foundation and teen pregnancy rates reported by the Center for Disease Control's National Center for Health Statistics.

How about family structure?  Does coming from a home without a father present increase a teen's odds of becoming pregnant? No.  Family structure and for that matter, race and ethnicity are not as important factors as poverty. (5)  This conclusion is based on detailed data collected from 12,000 students in middle and high school all across the country.

I've known some women who became mothers long before they planned to.  They are all strong women who love their children and provide a good home life for their children.  But the problems of teen pregnancy are the increased probability that the family will be poor, and the babies will be premature and more likely to be victims of abuse and neglect.

Perhaps the most surprising statistic is that teens do not have the highest rate of unplanned pregnancy.  The highest rate (106 unplanned pregnancies per 1,000) is for college age women.  When considering marital status, the rate is 138 for cohabitating couples.  Looking at income level, for women with incomes less than the federal poverty threshold, the rate is 112.  Women with a college degree or who are over 35 have the lowest rates of unplanned pregnancy. (6)

So what is the answer to this serious problem?  I have no idea.

Except that education and consistent contraceptive use are effective at preventing pregnancy.  Making jokes about contraception is counterproductive as is promoting the idea that "[contraception is] a license to do things."  Virtually all US women (more than 99%) use some form of contraception. (7)

If we could only get the entire world to use a convenient and effective form of birth control; we might have a shot at reducing poverty and hunger

(1) U.S. Teenage Pregnancies, Births and Abortions, 2008: National Trends by Age, Race and Ethnicity, Kost, K., & Henshaw, S. (2012). Retrieved February 2012, from http://www. guttmacher.org/pubs/ustptrends08.pdf.

(2) Fast Facts: Teen Pregnancy in the United States, The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/resources/pdf/FastFacts_TeenPregnancyinUS.pdf

(3) Religiosity and teen birth rate in the United States, Joseph M. Strayhorn, Jillian C. Strayhorn, Department of Psychiatry, Drexel University College of Medicine and University of Pittsburgh, http://www.reproductive-health-journal.com/imedia/1545549611271544_article.pdf?random=414460

(4) Religion’s Link to Teen Pregnancy, Lisa Belkin, New York Times, September 17, 2009.  http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/17/religions-link-to-teen-pregnancy/

(5)The Effects of Race/Ethnicity, Income, and Family Structure on Adolescent Risk Behaviors
Robert W. Blum, MD, et al., http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/pdf/10.2105/AJPH.90.12.1879 

(6) The DCR Report, The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/resources/DCR/default.aspx

(7) In Brief: Facts on Contraceptive Use in the United States, June 2010.  http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_contr_use.html

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