The Great Recession may have done something that countless public health campaigns and the billions of dollars spent to fund them could not: reduce our nation’s appallingly high teen birth rate.
According to CDC data released last month, the birth rate among girls between the ages of 15 and 19 dropped to an all-time low of 39.1 per 1,000 in 2009, the first full year of the worldwide economic recession. That was 6% lower than the previous year and the lowest rate since the government started tracking the statistic 70 years ago.
The trend among teens was consistent with drops in virtually all age groups, with the overall birth rates reaching a historic low of 13.5 per 1,000 females in 2009, down 4% from 2008. The drop was seen in teens in all races and ethnic groups. Among Hispanic teens, the birth rate in 2009 fell a full 10% to a still ridiculously high rate of 70.1 per 1,000 females. In African-American teens, the rate fell to 59.0.
Many scientists said it was too soon to conclude that the recession was responsible for the precipitous drop. Relevant data, like that referable to contraceptive use is still being collected for 2009. But even if there were a spike in such responsible behavior, the question remains why would that have happened? After all, the educational programs designed to promote contraceptive use have been around for years.
At a minimum, the recession is likely to be an epiphenomenon, a large contextual issue that drives more obvious relations between cause and effect. Would-be teenage moms “see parents who have lost jobs or houses. They’re very aware of how tough it is now, and I think that causes teens to be more cautious,” Sarah Brown, chief executive of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy told the Wall Street Journal.
An April, 2010 study by the Pew Research Center supports the contention that the recession is driving the drop in teen births. That study identified a correlation between declining personal income and housing prices and falling birth rates in many states for the calendar year2008.
Of note, the only age group in which the birth rate rose last year was in women between the ages of 40 and 44. In that group, the rate rose 3% from the previous year to to 10.1 per 1,000 women. It was the highest rate in the last 40 years.