Teenage birth rates dropped in D.C. and nearly every other state from 2007 to 2011, with the country as a whole hitting a record low, according to a new study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There were 42.8 births per 1,000 teenagers ages 15 to 19 in the District in 2011, according to the study, a 15 percent drop from 2007. The U.S. hit a record low of 31.3 births per 1,000 teenagers, a 25 percent drop.
Maryland saw 24.7 births per 1,000 teens in 2011, a 28 percent drop from 2007, while Virginia also experienced a nearly identical 28 percent drop to 24.5 births per 1,000 teens.
|Birth rate per 1,000 teenagers aged 15-19:|
|Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention|
The drops occurred across racial and Hispanic backgrounds. "The one finding which I find very interesting is the decline that you see in the rates for Hispanic teens," said Brady Hamilton, the study's lead author. "The rates fell by at least 40 percent in 22 states and D.C."
Hamilton said there was no clear set of reasons for the drops and that underlying factors likely differ from state to state.
"So there's potentially very broad issues -- people cited the economy," he said. "But teens are unique because they are the focus of policy programs out there."
On a national level, teen pregnancy rates have generally declined steadily since the early 1990s. "A decrease in both birth and abortion rates among these women signaled that both intended and unintended pregnancy rates were declining among these age-groups," a 2010 Guttmacher Institute study reads. "Among women aged 15-17, about one-quarter of the decline [from 1995 to 2002] was attributable to reduced sexual activity and three-quarters to increased contraceptive use."
An earlier CDC study attributes the more recent trend to teenagers waiting longer to have sex. From 2006 to 2010, according to that study, 57 percent of females ages 15 to 19 years had never had sex, up from 49 percent in 1995.
Despite across-the-board drops, D.C.'s teen birth rate is still well above the national average. Experts and activists point to ingrained socioeconomic ills as an obstacle to lowering rates further.
"There's a correlation between teen pregnancy, lower school performance, child abuse and deep poverty," said Jay Cooper, public policy director of the DC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. "Right now, the highest rates are in Wards 5, 7 and 8."
Cooper added that access to contraceptives, along with providing safe spaces for teenagers to ask questions about sexual health and providing better education and after-school activities, could help the District reach its stated goal of cutting the teenage pregnancy rate in half by 2015.
"Teen pregnancy prevention doesn't always happen in the form of a condom," he said. "When you're told your whole life that success is being rich and famous, if you're a 14-year-old in Kenilworth, that seems a long way away. When you don't have hope for the future, the present doesn't have any value."