In 2008, there were 23 births to teenage mothers for every 1,000 teenage girls in Connecticut.
But in the next five years, something astounding happened: 10 fewer births for every 1,000 Connecticut girls.
It wasn’t just in Connecticut. Plummeting teenage pregnancy rates are part of a nationwide trend. In the past few years, they hit an all-time low in nearly every state and nearly every demographic group.
But there’s a reason we’re writing about this in Connecticut.
Connecticut had the largest decrease in the nation
In 2008, Connecticut’s teenage pregnancy rates were already among the lowest in the nation — especially compared to places like Mississippi, where there were 64 births per 1,000 girls, and New Mexico, with 61 per 1,000. Only Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire had lower numbers than Connecticut, according to data from the Health Indicators Warehouse looking at 15- to 19-year-olds.
But even with that starting point, Connecticut’s teenage pregnancy rate dropped 43 percent — a larger percentage than any other state.
Older girls accounted for the drop
In all Connecticut counties, it was the older girls — aged 18 and 19 — who accounted for huge drops in the pregnancy rates.
Among girls 15 to 17, there was a drop, but the rates were relatively low to begin with.
It’s because of more contraceptives — and maybe less sex
There are many theories as to why pregnancy rates fell so quickly nationwide, but Bill Alpert, the chief program officer of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, told Time Magazine, “The short answer is that it is a combination of less sex and more contraception,” adding that teens now have a great variety of contraceptives from which to choose.
That said, a study from the Guttmacher Institute shows that the proportion of teens having sex did not change drastically from 2001 to 2013, but there were “moderate” increases in teen contraceptive use — and increases in highly effective forms of contraception, such as intrauterine devices.
What does reality TV and Obama have to do with this?
One study showed MTV’s “16 and Pregnant” led to a 5.7 percent reduction in teen births in the 18 months after its premiere. The researches told CNN that the show “had an influence on teens’ thinking regarding birth control and abortion.”
Meanwhile, an initiative in Colorado gained national attention as the state focused on offering low-income women forms of long-term, reversible contraception — intrauterine devices or implants — at free or low cost. Data on Title X-funded centers shows that Colorado has by far the highest usage rate of these highly effective contraceptives, while Connecticut lags behind.
But another thing that happened in 2010 was that President Obama pushed something called the “Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative,” which heavily funded federal grants for evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention. These are programs that have a successful track record or ones showing promise of success.
In Hartford, they found 2 in 3 teens were having sex
Among the grants recipients was the City of Hartford, where in 2008 teenage mothers accounted for one in five births among city residents. Looking at the region — Hartford County — there were 29.4 births per 1,000 teenagers in 2008, highest in the state. Five years later, the county’s teenage pregnancy rate was cut in half to 14.8.
With the federal grants, the city’s initial step was to take a behavioral survey in 2010 of about about 350 kids — mostly aged 14 or older — asking them about sex, sexuality and relationships. They learned that about 63 percent of respondent had had sex, and that three-quarters of the group had not used a condom during sex at least once. Other surveys, like the Center for Disease Control’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, also show large number of teens having sex without contraceptives.
“Teens are teens and they are engaging in behaviors that, as moms and dads, we wish they weren’t engaging in,” said Carmen Chaparro, the City of Hartford’s project manager for teen pregnancy prevention. “They are having sex, and they aren’t making the best decisions.”
This allowed Chaparro’s team to select various evidence-based curricula to target a wide range of youth at community and faith-based organizations. After receiving a $5 million grant last month that funds them until June 2020, Chaparro said they are now looking to engage schools.
Meanwhile, the city is conducting another behavioral survey among teens, and they should be releasing results in the fall.
The elephant in the room: Race
What we haven’t talked about yet is race. Despite major progress in preventing teenage pregnancies, the data shows there are huge disparities in how often white teenagers get pregnant versus minorities. Tomorrow, we’ll focus solely on this topic.