In the recently released Our Work: A Framework for Accelerating Progress for Children and Youth in America, two statistics are cited side by side: “High school graduation is at an all-time high, and teen pregnancy is at a historic low.”
This is no coincidence. Research has shown that becoming a parent is one of the top seven reasons a student leaves high school before graduating. Delaying pregnancy is also linked to greater economic mobility, especially for young people living in poverty.
As we celebrate National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month this May, it’s important to take a deeper look at the story of progress the numbers tell—along with examining the challenges that still lie ahead.
First, let’s take a look at the progress.
Since the early 1990s, teen pregnancy and birth rates in the U.S. have declined by 55 percent and 64 percent, respectively. Remarkably, this rate of progress has accelerated in recent years—the teen birth rate has declined 35 percent since 2010. What’s more, there has been dramatic progress among youth of color.
For example, since 1991, the teen birth rate has declined 73 percent for Black teens, 69 percent for American Indian and Alaska Native teens, and 67 percent for Hispanic teens. Young adults age 20-24 have also seen improvements; unplanned pregnancy began to decline in 2008 after decades of stalled progress.
Many factors have contributed to these improvements, including increased public awareness and changing social norms, high quality evidence-based sex education, and improved use of contraception. Communities have come together to support their young people, and more young people are making healthy decisions that help them achieve their goals.
When teen pregnancy rates go down, opportunities go up. More young people have the opportunity to complete high school, go on to college, and achieve their American Dream. Alongside the positive trends in teen pregnancy, the national graduation rate has reached 83.2 percent. Since 2001, 2.8 million more students have graduated from high school, resulting in significant benefits for young people, the economy, and the nation.
Despite the positive trends, it is still the case that nearly one in four teenagers in the United States becomes pregnant. Though young people of color have made dramatic progress, they still have higher rates of teen pregnancy than white peers. Teen pregnancy and childbearing also disproportionately affect youth living in poverty, in rural communities, and those in foster care. And, unplanned pregnancy isn’t only a challenge for teenagers. The highest rates of unplanned pregnancy occur among young women between 20 and 24 years of age, critical years for completing postsecondary education and launching careers.
Recent polling shows eight in 10 people in the United States still consider teen pregnancy to be an important issue, and nearly three-quarters of adults believe that more efforts should be made to prevent teen pregnancy in their communities.
National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month is a great time for teens and the adults in their lives to take action. Regardless of how much time you have, or whether you’re with a national organization, a community program serving young people, or a parent, there’s much you can do this May. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, an Alliance partner of America’s Promise, has a wealth of resources to get you started, for teens and adults alike.
- Level Up: An Epic Swiping Adventure: An interactive game that lets you navigate through different challenges and avoid making risky decisions.
- The National Day Quiz: The best time to figure out how to deal with risky situations is before you’re in the heat of the moment. Practice your skills and test your smarts.
- Discussion Guide (English | Spanish)
- Get Involved Guide: Find sample language, simple ideas, and ways to get involved regardless of budget or bandwidth.
- 8 Tips for Talking to Your Teen: These simple tips can guide you through a thoughtful, rational, and (hopefully) slightly less awkward conversation about sex with the teens in your life.
In May and throughout the year, let’s recommit to ensuring that all young people have the power to decide if, when, and under what circumstances to get pregnant, plan their futures, and achieve their education and career goals. Setting young people up for success will strengthen our families, communities, and the nation.
This blog is part of the #RecommitKids campaign, marking the 20th anniversary of America’s Promise Alliance and calling the nation to recommit to action on behalf of children and youth.