Fewer teenagers are having babies these days, a trend that began around 1958 and has been rolling downhill, for the most part, ever since.

"Fewer babies were born to teenagers in 2010 than in any year since 1946," says a study done by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by statisticians Dr. Brady E. Hamilton and Stephanie J. Ventura, M.A.

The study found that the numbers of births per every thousand girls aged 15-19 soared 78 percent between 1940, when records were first kept, through 1957, when the numbers peaked.

In 1940, there were 54.1 births among every thousand girls in that age group. There followed a steep increase, beginning in the late 1940s, to the 1957 peak of 96.3 births for every thousand girls.

But by 1960, the figure was 89.1 and dropping. The decline picked up steam in the mid-1960s, reaching a low of 65.5 births per thousand girls in 1969.

By 2010, the national rate had dropped to 34.3 births per thousand girls – and only 27 births per thousand in Pennsylvania.

Reasons for the reduction

Better access to contraceptives and education are the key to preventing teen births.

"The impact of strong pregnancy prevention messages directed to teenagers has been credited with the birth rate declines," Hamilton said. "Recently released data from the National Survey of Family Growth, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), have shown increased use of contraception at first initiation of sex and use of dual methods of contraception (that is, condoms and hormonal methods) among sexually active female and male teenagers. These trends may have contributed to the recent birth rate declines."

However, he noted that birth rates among women in their 20s and 30s has also declined over the past five years, and especially in the past two years.

"Some of the recent decline seen in teen births is part of an overall decline in births that we have seen," he said.

Hamilton and Ventura found that among the state with the lowest teen birth rates (New Hampshire, for example, has a 15.7 rate), race also plays a role.

"Some of the variation in teen births and birth rates seen across states reflects variation in the population composition within states in terms of race and Hispanic origin groups, such that a state with relatively more non-Hispanic white teenagers, who generally have low teen birth rates, will have an overall lower teen birth rate," he said.

According to the study, Mississippi had the highest rate of teen births – 55 per thousand girls. New Hampshire had the lowest, 15.7 per thousand.

"A more comprehensive, detailed report on births to teen is planned, which will include a multiple-year comparison of state teen birth data and teen birth probabilities. We hope to release this report sometime later this year," Hamilton said.

Teen births

take a toll

Giving birth while in her teens is mentally and physically risky for mother and child, and an expense to society.

"Despite these declines, the U.S. teen birth rate remains one of the highest among other industrialized countries," Hamilton and Ventura wrote in their landmark study. "Moreover, childbearing by teenagers continues to be a matter of public concern because of the elevated health risks for teen mothers and their infants. In addition, significant public costs are associated with teen childbearing, estimated at $10.9 billion annually."

According to the CDC, "teen pregnancy accounts for nearly $11 billion per year in costs to U.S. taxpayers for increased health care and foster care, increased incarceration rates among children of teen parents, and lost tax revenue because of lower educational attainment and income among teen mothers.

Further, "pregnancy and birth are significant contributors to high school drop out rates among girls. Only about 50 percent of teen mothers receive a high school diploma by 22 years of age, versus approximately 90 percent of women who had not given birth during adolescence.

The children of teenage mothers are "more likely to have lower school achievement and drop out of high school, have more health problems, be incarcerated at some time during adolescence, give birth as a teenager, and face unemployment as a young adult," CDC says.

"These effects remain for the teen mother and her child even after adjusting for those factors that increased the teenager's risk for pregnancy; such as, growing up in poverty, having parents with low levels of education, growing up in a single-parent family, and having low attachment to and performance in school," CDC says.

Working to keep the reductions rolling

Blue Mountain Health System's Family Planning Program employees Louise Hayden and Marti Zulic, RN, say they have not seen an increase in the numbers of teens who come there seeking contraceptives.

They have, however, been seeing fewer pregnant teenagers, Hayden said.

"It seems like years ago, I saw more teenagers who wanted to be pregnant," she said.

The reasons?

"Get out of the house, they're in love," she said. "I think that a lot of them had this romantic notion that we're in love and we're going to have a baby and life is going to be just wonderful."

Zulic points to better education and higher self-esteem as reasons for the decrease.

Hayden, a social worker, has been with the program since it began in 1978 while Zulic has been there for about 10 years. the program is in the Blue Mountain Health System Medical Mall, at 204 State Rd., just off Route 248 in Franklin Township.

Hayden said education is key to "instill good decision-making."

Zulic said the program teaches self-esteem, abstinence education, STD education. Everything is confidential, she said.

The program offers contraceptives through the National Family Planning Program on a sliding scale fee for those under age 18 and who meet income guidelines.

Zulic said the program encourages teens to talk with their parents or another trusted adult before using contraceptives. However, parental consent is not required, she said.

Hayden said the program has seen several girls as young as 13. For the most part, they are brought in by parents who are concerned because maybe some of their daughters' friends have become pregnant.

"Some of those moms had had pregnancies and births early on, so they want something better for their daughters," she said.

Most teens are around 15 or 16 when they come in, she said.

The program also provides screening for sexually transmitted diseases, a risk for sexually active teens who may be naive or have incorrect information.

"They say often that 'I don't need to be screened because I asked my boyfriend, and he was tested'," Zulic said "I hear that very often. Then I ask them how the boyfriend was tested, and they have no idea."