Younger Teens Still Make Up 1 in 4 Teen Mothers

Two teen girls examine a pregnancy test result.
The rate of teen births in the U.S. has been falling nearly continuously for two decades. (Image credit: Teen pregnancy test photo via Shutterstock)

The number of 15- to 17-year-olds who give birth has declined, but these younger teens still account for about one-quarter of teen births — nearly 1,700 births weekly, or 86,500 yearly, according to a new government report.

The rate of births among teens ages 15 to 17 dropped to 14.1 per 1,000 in 2012, declining 63 percent from 38.6 births per 1,000 in 1991, according to the report, released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The report focused on younger teens, who are not legally recognized as adults and who haven't yet finished high school. These teens are more vulnerable than 18- and 19-year-old mothers to the negative career and health consequences that can follow teen pregnancy or birth, the researchers said.

"The younger teen years are a critical time, when a teen — especially a young woman — could jeopardize her future if she can't finish high school or go to college," said Ileana Arias, CDC principal deputy director. Teen fathers also may be at risk, if they leave school to support their children, Arias added. [9 Months, 9 Symptoms: What Pregnancy Really Feels Like]

The researchers called for health practitioners to provide teen-friendly services and encourage teens to use contraception if they are sexually active. Teens should understand what services are available, which matters are private and confidential, and which services require parental consent.

The recent decline in birth rates among younger teens is part of the overall drop in the U.S. teen birth rate. The rate has fallen almost continuously over the last two decades, and reached an all-time low of 29.4 births per 1,000 teens in 2012, according to previous reports from the CDC.

Still, the current teen birth rate in the United States is higher than in other developed countries. In 2012, about 305,000 babies were born to U.S. teens.

"Although we have made significant progress reducing teen pregnancy, far too many teens are still having babies," said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden.

In the new report, researchers found that in 2012, the teen birth rates were as follows: 5.4 per 1,000 teens among 15-year-olds, 12.9 per 1,000 among 16-year-olds and 23.7 per 1,000 among 17-year-olds.

The rates also varied by state, ranging from 6 per 1,000 teens ages 15 to 17 in New Hampshire, to about 25 per 1,000 in Texas and New Mexico, and 29 per 1,000 in the District of Columbia for this same age group.

The results also showed a vast disparity among racial groups. Birth rates were higher for Hispanic, black and American Indian/Alaska Native teens. In 2012, the birth rate per 1,000 teens ages 15 to 17 years was 25.5 for Hispanic teens, 22 for black teens, 17 for American Indian/Alaska Native teens, 8.4 for white teens and 4 for Asian/Pacific Islander teens.

Researchers found that the majority of teens had talked with their parents about sex, but only about 4 in 10 received information on birth control and how to say no to sex, said CDC researcher Lee Warner.

"Research shows that teens who talk with their parents about sex, relationships, birth control and pregnancy begin to have sex at a later age, and use condoms and birth control more often when they do have sex," Warner said.

Email Bahar Gholipour. Follow us @LiveScience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

Bahar Gholipour
Staff Writer
Bahar Gholipour is a staff reporter for Live Science covering neuroscience, odd medical cases and all things health. She holds a Master of Science degree in neuroscience from the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) in Paris, and has done graduate-level work in science journalism at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. She has worked as a research assistant at the Laboratoire de Neurosciences Cognitives at ENS.