April 13, 2005
Steadily declining teen birth rates have led to fewer children living in poverty and in single-parent homes, according to a national study released today.
Despite a 23 percent reduction in teen birth rates since 1991, Arizona still has the fourth-highest rate in the country, with about 34 births for every 1,000 teen girls.
The analysis from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy shows that reducing the number of children born to teens has a significant ripple effect, and points to the socioeconomic roots of teen pregnancy.
"The big numbers are found in the parts of our communities where there’s poverty," said Patricia Jo Angelini, director of the Arizona Coalition on Adolescent Pregnancy and Parenting.
Nationally, teen birth rates declined 30 percent between 1991 and 2002. In Arizona, the rates continued to climb through 1998, then fell steadily every year thereafter.
The study analyzed national data released last spring and found that teen birth rates had declined in every state. In Arizona, that meant nearly 22,000 fewer children were born to teen mothers, more than 5,200 children who would have been living in poverty and some 5,400 children who would have been living with a single mother, according to the study.
Those who work directly with teen parents say they’re still far too busy.
Julie Lessard, adolescent pregnancy and parenting coordinator for the Tempe Union High School District, said her program serves about 150 students this year at Compadre High School.
Lessard and Angelini said it’s unclear why fewer teens are getting pregnant. Abstinence education, fear of AIDS, increased use of birth control and more media attention may all have played a role.
Parents and children must reach teens who already are having sex, they said. By the time they leave high school, nearly two-thirds have had sex, according to the state Department of Education. "Abstinence-only (education) is going to work for some," Lessard said. "But it’s not going to work for everybody."