WASHINGTON – Teen birth rates continued their 15-year decline in 2005 as adolescents got increasingly into the habit of using condoms during sexual intercourse.
Since the late 1990s, however, the number of children born to unmarried women in their 20s rose significantly, resulting in an overall increase in the rate of births to unmarried women.
Edward Sondik, director of the National Center for Health Statistics, said changes in sexual behavior and pregnancy found in the 10th-anniversary America’s Children report were dramatic and generally told a story of decreased sexual activity and pregnancy among teens.
“These are overall positive trends for teens that suggest greater health and well-being,” he said. “It also means that teens are being exposed less to sexually transmitted disease.”
Sondik said the trends described in Thursday’s report generally started during the 1990s and have either continued or reached a plateau in recent years.
One of the most dramatic increases involved condom use by high school students – with 63 percent reporting using that protection during their last sexual encounter, compared with 46 percent in 1991. During that same time, the report said, the percentage of girls who said they used birth control pills remained about the same.
As a result, the teen birth rate has been declining while the percentage of high school students engaging in sexual behavior remained relatively stable. About 47 percent of high school students – 4.6 million teens – reported having had sexual intercourse in 2005, down from 54 percent in 1991.
While teen sexual behavior appeared to be less risky, more young people were being arrested for serious violent crime in 2005 than during the previous three years. The arrest rate of 17 crimes per 1,000 juveniles, however, remained significantly below the peak rate of 52 per 1,000 in 1993.
The extensive report by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics also found that more young people are completing high school – 88 percent in 2005 compared with 84 percent in 1980 – but that the percentage of children covered by health insurance decreased slightly from 90 percent in 2004 to 89 percent in 2005. The percentage of infants born weighing less than 5 pounds 8 ounces increased from 8.1 percent in 2004 to 8.2 percent in 2005.