Many parents worry their kids are growing up too fast, but they may take heart in some new research showing teen pregnancy rates in the United States recently hit a 40-year low.

Sociologists Kathryn Kost and Stanley Henshaw of the Guttmacher Institute reached their conclusions by pooling and analyzing data from their institute, the National Center for Health Statistics, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the US Census Bureau’s Population Estimates Program.

According to their report, the teen pregnancy rate reached its peak in 1990, when about 117 of every 1,000 girls between 15 and 19 years of age became pregnant. But those numbers have steadily declined ever since, and by 2008, the most recent year with accuate statistics available, the rate was about 68 pregnancies per 1,000 teens — a 42 percent drop from 1990.

Teenaged births and abortion rates are also way down. In 1991, there were about 62 births per 1,000 teens — but by 2008, that number dropped to 40, representing a 35 percent decrease. In addition, 2008 saw the lowest teenage abortion rate since the procedure became legal in 1973: just under 18 abortions per 1,000 young women.

However, there were racial disparities — the birth rates for black and Hispanic teenagers and the abortion rate for Hispanic teenagers were all twice as high as for non-Hispanic whites. More strikingly, the abortion rate for black teenagers in 2008 was four times the rate for non-Hispanic whites that year.

The researchers say recent studies have largely credited increased contraceptive use for the overall drop in the teen pregnancy rate, but they added sex education may need to be tailored to the region where it is taught, since sex-ed classes seem to be less effective in more conservative states.

In a statement, Kost said, “The recent declines in teen pregnancy rates are great news. However, the continued inequities among racial and ethnic minorities are cause for concern. It is time to redouble our efforts to ensure that all teens have access to the information and contraceptive servicesthey need to prevent unwanted pregnancies.”


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