The CDC is out with new data on teen birth rates from years 2006 to 2014. The news is good: Teenaged women gave birth to fewer babies, with large decreases in rates among all racial groups. Overall, the teen birth rate is down 41 percent! As the CDC says, teen pregnancy can have serious health, economic, and social consequences, so we want to work to help young women and men wait until the right time to become parents. Some of the success we've seen as a nation in lowering teen birth rates is a result of community-level programs to better educate teens about the risks involved with sex. Data shows that the age at first sexual encounter has gotten later, and that today's teenagers are having fewer partners than those of yesteryear.
There are many indicators tied to teen pregnancy, including educational attainment of parents and economic opportunity. While higher teen birth rates are correlated with a lack of economic opportunity (i.e., areas with high unemployment typically see higher teen birth rates), it's not clear that the causal arrow only runs one way. I have always wondered if young women are more likely to suffer a lack of opportunity because they have parenting responsibilities, or if this lack of opportunity signals to them that their chances of success are low, which might lead them to seek meaning in other areas of their life, like relationships or even untimely motherhood. I think the answer is some of both.
This is just a good reminder that economic issues can have real serious social side effects. While we should continue to educate our sons and daughters about sex, we should also be sure that all the youth in our community believe that their futures are worth fighting for — and worth waiting for. Motherhood is one of life's greatest gifts, but it's much easier when a woman has the support system she needs, including a supportive and commited partner, and when she has finished her education. We can celebrate that more and more teens are making good decisions, and we can continue to work to be sure all young people know their value and their potential.