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Adolescent Parenthood

Trends In The United States

Despite a modest reduction in the pregnancy rate among sexually experienced fifteen- to nineteen-year-olds since the late 1980s, nearly one-fifth of sexually active adolescent females become pregnant each year in the United States (Darroch and Singh 1999). Nationwide, the estimated adolescent pregnancy rate in 1996 (the most recent year for which adolescent pregnancy rates can be computed) was 98.7 pregnancies per 1,000 women aged fifteen through nineteen, down 15 percent since peaking in 1991 at 116.5 and lower than in any year since 1976 (Ventura et al. 2000). Although about 25 percent of the overall decline in the pregnancy rate resulted from increased abstinence, approximately 75 percent was due to more effective contraceptive practice. Nevertheless, nearly one million adolescents between fifteen and nineteen become pregnant each year, and nearly two-thirds of these pregnancies are to eighteen to nineteen year olds (Alan Guttmacher Institute 1999).

Among those girls aged fifteen to nineteen who become pregnant, just over half give birth annually (Darroch and Singh 1999). Consistent with the steady decline in the pregnancy rate, a parallel drop was observed in the birthrate. For example, 51.1 per 1,000 women in this age group years gave birth in 1998, 18 percent lower than in 1991 when the rate reached its recent peak of 62.1 (Ventura et al. 2000). This declining birthrate represents a smaller decrease for those eighteen to nineteen (13% drop to 82 per 1,000) than for women aged fifteen to seventeen (21% drop to 30.4 per 1,000). Overall, nearly two-thirds of births to teenagers occur in the later years of adolescence.

Although the prevalence of adolescent pregnancy and childbearing in the United States declined in the 1990s, substantial racial variations exist. In 1996, whites were nearly 2.5 times less likely to become pregnant (66.1 per 1,000 fifteen- to nineteen-year-olds) than Hispanics (164.6) or African Americans (178.9). Differences in pregnancy rates among racial groups persisted across the 1990s, and sharper drops in the birthrates among African Americans than among whites narrowed the gap between these groups. For example, the birthrates per 1,000 African-American adolescents declined 26 percent from 1991 (115.5) to 1998 (85.4), whereas the rates for whites declined 19 percent (43.4 to 35.2). A modest but steady decline in the birthrates for Hispanic adolescents occurred between 1994 (107.7) and 1998 (93.6), resulting in Hispanic adolescents now having the highest birthrate. Importantly, despite the overrepresentation of adolescent pregnancy and childbearing among minority groups, the actual number of births to whites is nearly double that of births to both African-American and Hispanic adolescents (Ventura et al. 2000).

Detailed and thorough information on the fathers of children born to adolescent mothers is scarce. However, the general consensus is that these fathers are less likely to be adolescents. In the mid-1990s, slightly over half of adolescent mothers reported that their child's father was at least three years older (e.g., Darroch, Landry, and Oslak 1999). In fact, sexually experienced adolescent women with much older partners were more likely to conceive than were young women whose partners were closer in age. Overall, 30 to 50 percent of pregnancies to an adolescent mother involved a father younger than twenty at the time of the child's birth. Unlike the birthrate trends for adolescent mothers, rates for adolescent fathers grew substantially between 1986 and 1996, when 23 of every 1,000 males age fifteen to nineteen became fathers (Thornberry et al. 2000).

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Marriage and Family EncyclopediaPregnancy & ParenthoodAdolescent Parenthood - Trends In The United States, International Trends, Antecedents Of Adolescent Pregnancy, Adoption, Marriage, And Single Parenthood