Racial Disparities in Teen Pregnancy Rates

While teen pregnancy has generally been on a decrease over the past two decades, it’s still an issue in the United States, which has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the developed world. Teen pregnancy costs the United States around $28 billion per year but is by all accounts a preventable issue. Black and Latina girls are still twice as likely to become teen mothers than white girls, despite the fact that the pregnancy rate in black and Latina teenagers has fallen faster than that of white teenagers. The results of these pregnancies are through a medical abortion, parenting or adoption.

Poverty and Pregnancy

Poverty can be seen as both a consequence and the reason for teen pregnancy, as well as certain societal attitudes toward birth control and sex education. Experts suggest multifaceted approaches to preventing teen pregnancy, including a combination of federal and state funding with community outreach efforts. Despite success lowering the pregnancy rate among black and Latina teens, the number is still much greater than white teens.

The good news is, progress has been seen in all 50 states in regards to reducing teen pregnancy rates. The teen pregnancy rate has dropped 57 percent since 1991. Black or African American girls saw a 67 percent decline in teen pregnancy rates, Latinas a 60 percent decline, white teens a 57 percent decline, American Indian/Native Alaskans, by 63 percent, and Asian/Pacific Islanders by 68 percent.

Benefits of Birth Control

While this is obviously good news for those who want to prevent teen pregnancy, there are more than likely a variety of factors that contributed to the overall decrease. For starters, low maintenance birth control like the hormonal implant and the IUD became more popular. These methods have low failure rates and are long lasting options.

The Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative created by the Obama administration is also more than likely a contributing factor. This initiative awarded $105 million in grants to a variety of organizations that were attempting to address teen pregnancy. Funds were only given to organizations with a proven track record of success.


Perhaps the most obvious reason for the drop in teen pregnancy is that teenagers are having less sex than they used to. MTV’s “16 & Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” can even be thanked for the reduction in teen pregnancy rates. A third of the drop in teen pregnancy rates between 2008 and 2011 can be directly attributed to those TV shows.

The general social norm these days is not to get pregnant as a teenager, despite the fact that teens whose friends are having sex are more likely to be having sex themselves. Even though all of this appears to be good news to teen pregnancy prevention advocates, the rates of pregnancy among teens of color are still quite high compared to white teens.

Racial Pregnancy Discrepancies

Latina teenagers have the highest rate of teen pregnancy, with 42 births per 1000 Latina teens. Black and African American teenagers have a rate of 39 births per 1000 teens and Native Americans/Alaskan Natives have a birth rate of 31 per 1000 teens. Asian/Pacific Islanders were the lowest with 9 births per 1000 teens.

For comparison, white teens have a birth rate of 19 per 1000 teenagers. Poverty and geographical location appear to have a large impact on teen pregnancy. Teens that live in urban and suburban areas are less likely to get pregnant than their rural counterparts. Teenage females that live in the Southern states are also more likely to become pregnant than those in other regions of the United States. While cultural and religious differences were previously blamed for the teen pregnancy rates, access to birth control and quality of education are more likely to contribute to teen pregnancy.

Teens of color that live at or below the poverty line tend to have fewer options when it comes to quality healthcare and contraceptive care. Abortion rates are also higher. This is because black and Latina teens are more likely to live in areas where jobs and opportunities are scarce. Poor educational opportunities typically indicate poor sex education. Children of teen parents are also more likely to get pregnant in their teens. Exploitation by older men appears to be a contributing factor in certain communities as well.

Overall, greater access to sex education and resources will cause the pregnancy rate among black and Latina teens to drop.

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