Roughly 40% of females in the United States become pregnant before they reach 20 years of age. Half of these pregnant teens give birth each year, while around 45% have abortions. 18-19 year old women have the highest birth rate among adolescents, in 1996, for instance, the birth rate for 18-19 year olds was 86.5 births per 1000 women, while the birth rate for 15-17 year olds was 38.7 per 1000 women. Fortunately, only a few births were registered for teens under 15 years of age (1.2 per 1000).
Teenage pregnancy rates seem to vary across racial lines in the United States, though this is most likely due to the socio-economic status in which many minorities unfortunately find themselves. Black teenagers were at the greatest risk for pregnancy in 1991, but between 1991 and 1996, the birth rate for teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 in this group decreased by 21%, a greater percentage than for any other group. However, there is a disparity between birth rates for white teens and that of minorities. In 1996, the birth rate for Black teenagers between 15 and 19 years old was 91.7 births per 1000, compared to 50.1 births per 1000 for white teens. In 1996, the highest rate of teen pregnancy, 105.5 per 1000, was registered among Hispanic teenagers aged 15-19.
In 2002, teenage pregnancy rates hit their lowest mark in 30 years, down 30% since their peak in 1990. It seems that increased abstinence, but also increased exposure to information about contraceptives, contributed to this decrease. Indeed, the teenage pregnancy rates among girls who did have intercourse dropped 28% between 1990 and 2002. The teenage birth rate in 2002 was 30% lower than the peak rate of 1991.
Even though the birth rates for all groups and across all states in the United States have been decreasing over the past several decades, teenage pregnancy rates in this country are still substantially higher than in most other industrialized countries. Teen birth rate in the US is twice that of the United Kingdom, the country with the highest teenage birth rate in Europe, it is more than four times that of Spain and Sweden, it is seven times that of Denmark and the Netherlands, and it is 15 times greater than the birth rate in Japan.
Studies have shown that teenage sexual activity in these countries with lower teenage pregnancy rates is not significantly different than it is in the US. As usual, according to researchers, the problem is twofold. How the US treats teenage sexuality and the lack of dialogue concerning all thoughts and behaviors relating to sex is failing to deal with the issue of teenage pregnancy, as is the extent of adolescents (and their families) living in poverty and therefore being denied access to education and proper health care.