Teen Pregnancy Overview

Teen Pregnancy Image

Teen pregnancy is an important issue for several reasons. For example, there are health risks for the baby and children born to teenage mothers are more likely to suffer health, social, and emotional problems than children born to older mothers. Also, women who become pregnant during their teens are at increased risk for medical complications, such as premature labor, and social consequences.

Teen pregnancy rates in the United States fell 40 percent from 1990 to 2008—to their lowest level since 1976. The decline in the teen pregnancy rates was consistent during this time period, except for increases in 2005 and 2006. In teenage girls aged 15 to 17, the pregnancy rate has declined by almost 50 percent since 1990, but accounted for more than one-quarter of all teen pregnancies in 2012. The pregnancy rate in older teens decreased by about 33 percent. Recent studies show that although teen pregnancies continuing to decline in the United States, rates for African American teens and Hispanic teens are two to three times higher than in Caucasian teens.

In April 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that nearly one in five teen births is a repeat birth—meaning that it's at least the second birth for the teenage mother. Although the repeat teen birth rate in the United States declined by more than 6 percent between 2007 and 2010, it remains high—especially in American Indian/Alaskan Natives (21.6 percent), Hispanics (20.9 percent), and non-Hispanic African Americans (20.4 percent). In Caucasian teens, the repeat birth rate is 14.8 percent.

Studies show that although most teen parents who are sexually active use contraception during the postpartum period, only about 22 percent use "most effective" birth control (> 99 percent effective). Babies born as result of a repeat teen pregnancy are even more likely to be born premature—early and at a low birth weight.

Declining teen pregnancy rates are thought to be attributed to more effective birth control practice, newer methods of birth control (e.g., long-acting, reversible contraception), and decreased sexual activity among teens.

Still, teenage pregnancy rates remain high and approximately 1 million teenage girls become pregnant each year in the United States and about 13 percent of U.S. births involve teen mothers. To lower teen pregnancy rates, older children must be educated about sex and sexuality and about the consequences of pregnancy.

Consequences of Teen Pregnancy

  • Teenage births are associated with lower annual income for the mother. Eighty percent of teen mothers must rely on welfare at some point.
  • Teenage mothers are more likely to drop out of school. Only about one-third of teen mothers obtain a high school diploma.
  • Teenage pregnancies are associated with increased rates of alcohol abuse and substance abuse, lower educational level, and reduced earning potential in teen fathers.
  • In the United States, the annual cost of teen pregnancies from lost tax revenues, public assistance, child health care, foster care and involvement with the criminal justice system is estimated to be about $7 billion.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 31 Oct 2000

Last Modified: 09 Apr 2014