This is my Time.com column today:
The Centers for Disease Control just reported a 44% decline in the teenage birth rate since 1990, the lowest level in almost 70 years. The decline represents an actual decrease in teen pregnancy, not an increase in abortion, and this is due in turn to two changes: more girls are delaying onset of intercourse, and a higher percentage of sexually active girls are using the most reliable forms of contraception.
By 2010, a clear majority of teenage girls (the analysis did not include boys) reported never having had sex, giving the lie to adolescent worries that “everyone is doing it.” In fact, 57% of teen girls aren’t sexually active, compared to 49% in 1995, and there were no racial or ethnic differences in age of onset. Of sexually experienced teens, 60% overall (vs. 47% in 1995) reported current use of the most reliable forms of contraception.
But winning the “Most Improved” award isn’t nearly good enough when it comes to public health issues like adolescent pregnancies. It’s a bit like going from a failing grade to a D, or feeling relieved that Hurricane Katrina was “only” a Category 3 storm. The truth is that our U.S. statistics are a comparative disaster…