Fewer U.S. teens than ever are having babies

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The rate of children born to teenage parents in the U.S. has hit an all-time low, dropping a full 9% from 2009 to 2010. "The nation has made truly extraordinary progress in reducing both rates of teen pregnancies and teen births," said Bill Albert of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. "It is not a stretch to say that this is one of the nation's great success stories of the past decades."

Good work, everyone! So who can we thank, the people teaching our kids that sex is dirty and for married people only, or the people showering our nation's youth with condoms and health education? Annoyingly for each side of this debate, the answer seems to be 'both.' "It's a combination of less sex and more contraception," Albert said." I would resist the temptation for a magic bullet to explain the declines in teen pregnancies. I suspect it's a rich brew of reasons why the rates are going down."

The study's author added, "With teens, there are a lot of factors. The economy is cited for overall downturn in the number of births. With teens, there are public policy programs directly addressing this teen pregnancy issue. It's a mixture of things involved. We cannot tease that out with the data set that we have." Even the specific numbers are pretty unspecific: birth rates went down consistently across different racial and ethnic groups, as well as across the states, dropping to an average of 34.3 births per 1,000 teenage women.

But before anyone starts feeling too good about themselves, the rate of teen births in the U.S. is still significantly higher than that of most other developed countries. "It's still the case that the U.S. is an outlier when it comes to teen pregnancy," said Albert. In Canada, for instance, the rate is less than half of ours, clocking in at fourteen teen births per 1,000 young women.

So, as always, teen pregnancy-related news is a mixed bag. The one truly heartening thing in all this? A national survey indicates that, in spite of the cottage industry that's recently sprung up around underage parenting, the vast majority of teenagers seem to view shows like Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant as a cautionary tale, not career inspiration. Maybe the kids are alright.