The rate of teen pregnancy in the United States has fallen dramatically over the last two decades -- 52 percent -- though in the developed world, it still remains the highest. In 2008, the last year for which in-depth data are available, nearly 750,000 young women under 20 became pregnant, including some 236,000 teenage girls ages 15-17. The overwhelming majority of them were unmarried.
The good news is that the numbers of teen pregnancies have declined so significantly for two reasons: First, fewer teens are having sex and second, more teens who are sexually active are using birth control.
More than half of all high school students have not had sex, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has been monitoring sexual behavior in teens since 1990. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy was founded in 1996, and I joined the board soon after. Our goal was to reduce teen pregnancies by one-third. There aren't many public policy organizations out there that can claim to have exceeded their goal so handsomely. But this campaign didn't rest on its laurels. Instead, it broadened its attention to focus on unplanned pregnancies overall.
About half of all births in the U.S. fit this description. And while an unplanned pregnancy may prove an inconvenience to married couples, it is rarely a tragedy as it too often is for unmarried women. Unfortunately, while teen pregnancies are declining, those among unmarried 20-somethings have gone up dramatically.
The problem is complex. Sexual mores have clearly changed. Sex before marriage has become the norm, with little pushback even from churches. More than three quarters of young adults ages 18-24 have had sex in the last year. At the same time, young adults are delaying marriage to new lengths.
The median age of marriage for women in 1990 was 24, and for men, 26; today it is roughly 26 and 28, respectively. Yet many of these young adults are not using reliable birth control -- or are doing so inconsistently -- which is why unplanned pregnancies have risen among this population. In fact, birth control use has actually declined among unmarried women ages 20-29.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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