ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The teen birthrate continues to drop nationwide and in New Mexico, but New Mexico remains at the top with the highest rate in the country.
Decreased sexual activity and increased use of contraceptives are the apparent reasons for a decline in teen births, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.
The birthrate in the United States for teens dropped in 2013 to 26.6 births per 1,000 teens ages 15 to 19 – down from the rate of 61.8 births per 1,000 teens in 1991, the CDC said in a report released Wednesday.
Although New Mexico has also had a decline over the years, it keeps the top spot, with 47.5 births per 1,000, one of eight states with teen birthrates exceeding 40 per 1,000 among ages 15 to 19. Still, that number is an improvement over statistics from 2005, showing New Mexico with 62 births per 1,000 teens.
The teen birthrate has declined across all racial groups since 1991, with the largest declines among Asian-Pacific Islanders at 64 percent and non-Hispanic blacks, 63 percent. Asian-Pacific Islander teens currently have the lowest birthrate overall at 9.7 per 1,000, while Hispanic teens have the highest rate among the racial groups, 46.3 percent. On the other hand, the Hispanic teen birthrate has declined 39 percent since 2007.
“Nationally, the rates among Hispanics tend to be higher than the overall rates, and New Mexico has a very high percentage of Hispanics,” said Sharon Kayne, communications director of New Mexico Voices for Children, a child advocacy group. Among children age 0-19, 59 percent are Hispanic, she said.
The nationwide decline has resulted in 4 million fewer teen births since 1991, which has in turn resulted in a savings to taxpayers. In just 2010 alone, it amounted to an estimated $12 billion savings in costs associated with government-funded health care, child welfare and the higher incarceration rates of children of teen mothers, the CDC says.
The organization also notes that pregnant teens have a higher risk of a birth with complications, and the children of those teen mothers are more likely to themselves become teenage parents. Further, because 90 percent of teens giving birth are single mothers, they usually have fewer resources and educational opportunities.
“When it comes to teen births, poverty plays a big role, and when young women don’t see that they have any options in terms of a career, or if college is out of the question, they have fewer reasons to delay having children,” Kayne said.
Michaela Cadena, policy director at Young Women United, an Albuquerque-based community organizing and policy advocacy group for young women of color, agreed that poverty is a cause of teen pregnancy.
“Regardless of when a person has a child, whether it’s in the teenage years or in their 20s or 30s, it does not change their economic trajectory. If they are born into poverty, they will likely remain in poverty,” Cadena said.
State and local governments can affect poverty, and therefore teen births, through such things as access to early childhood education, safe neighborhoods, affordable health care, educational opportunities and “medically accurate and comprehensive sexuality education in the public schools,” she said.
Susan Lovett, the New Mexico Department of Health’s program manager for family planning, also pointed to poverty as a contributing factor in teen pregnancy and births. The 2012 Kids Count data book ranked New Mexico second in the nation for the percentage of children living in poverty.
“Teens who drop of out school are more likely to become pregnant, and the New Mexico dropout rate from 2011 was 37 percent, compared to 22 percent nationally,” she said.
In addition, teens who live in rural areas are “more likely to become parents,” Lovett said, noting that 26 of New Mexico’s 33 counties are classified as rural.
The Department of Health, she said, is working to reduce teen pregnancy through its network of clinics around the state that provide family planning, which includes confidential services for teens and promotion of “long-acting reversible contraceptives for teens who are sexually active,” Lovett said.
Despite the statistical improvement, the U.S. continues to lag behind other developed countries. With a rate of 20 births per 1,000 teens, the United States is relatively high compared with countries such as Denmark, Switzerland and Japan, which have teen birthrates under 5 per 1,000 teens, the CDC report said.