During the last decade, teen pregnancy rates in South Carolina and across the country have decreased substantially. While encouraging and certainly a clear indication that progress can be made on this critically important issue, not all of the news is good.
Between 1997 and 2007 rates of teen pregnancy in South Carolina decreased by 14%. However, during that time, we see two separate stories. Between 1997 and 2003 rates of teen pregnancy decreased 22%, while between 2004 and 2007 rates have actually increased 10%. A closer examination across teen demographics reveals a complex, yet critically important story. During the last decade teen pregnancy rates among older youth increased while rates among younger youth decreased. Rates of teen pregnancy for 15-17 year old youth are the lowest they have even been while rates of teen pregnancy among older youth are higher than they have been since 2000. Tremendous progress has been made over the last decade in reducing the rate of teen pregnancy of African American teens, but stark disparities between White and African American teen pregnancy rates persist.
When we ask ourselves about the story behind the data, we are always left with more questions than answers. However, we do know some things. 1) Younger youth are the target of most teen pregnancy prevention efforts. The most striking progress has been made with these younger teens. Even though older teen pregnancies make up more than 2/3 of all teen pregnancies, they have not received a lot of attention. 2) As in the case in many health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, and asthma, there are striking racial disparities in teen pregnancy rates. 3) South Carolina Youth Risk Behavior Survey data for 2007 indicates that progress has slowed in reducing the percent of youth who have had sex. At the same time, condom use among sexually active teens has declined for the first time since 1991, the first year in which data are available. 4) In addition, many programs targeting youth have been cut or eliminated. These four points do not completely explain the recent teen pregnancy data trends, but provide some context for understanding the story behind the data.
Now is the time for us to build on what works by reinvesting in programs that have been shown to be successful for younger youth. We are fortunate to have solid evidence to identify effective programs for school-age youth. However, we need to refocus our efforts on older youth by engaging with non-traditional partners, such as community colleges and adult education programs. Older youth are more likely to be sexually active and need to have access to affordable contraception services and family planning clinics and public health agencies will be important partners when working with 18-19 year olds.
I’d love to hear from you! What this new data mean to you? What do you think we should do to prevent teen pregnancies? Please feel free to post your comments below
by: Shannon Flynn, Director of Research and Evaluation, SC Campaign
Contact Shannon: firstname.lastname@example.org