New research published last week on February 15, 2022, More comprehensive sex education reduced teen births: Quasi-experimental evidence, provided further evidence that comprehensive sex education does have an impact on reducing teen pregnancy in the United States. The authors of the study state, “Our results show that federal funding for more comprehensive sex education reduced county-level teen birth rates by more than 3%. Our findings thus complement the mixed evidence to date from randomized control trials on teen pregnancies and births by providing population-level causal evidence that federal funding for more comprehensive sex education led
to reductions in teen births.”
The researchers looked at 55 counties examining federally funded programs provided through public and private organizations. The authors point out that the analyses provide population-level causal evidence that funding for more comprehensive sex education led to an overall reduction in the teen birth rate at the county level of more than 3%.
In Washington the debate has frequently compared sex education programs to programs that only allow an abstinence-from-sex only approach. Research results for abstinence-only has not been that positive. Since 1996, there is specific funding under the TANF block grant specific to these two approaches with extension of the teen pregnancy prevention funding always being contingent on funding abstinence only funds.
As we have reported in the past (and before the pandemic), regarding teen births to women less than twenty years old, the US continues to see a decline. In 2017, a total of 194,377 babies were born to teens aged 15–19 years, for a birth rate of 18.8 per 1,000 teens, down from 41.5 live births per 1,000 teens in 2007. Birth rates decreased by an average of 4.9% per year from 2007 to 2009 and then decreased more rapidly by an average of 8.4% per year from 2009 to 2017.
Birth rates decreased for all teen populations measured, but there are still significant differences. Rates among non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic black teens aged 15–19 were stable from 2007 to 2009. From 2009 to 2017, rates decreased by an average of 7.8% per year to 13.4 live births per 1,000 for non-Hispanic white teens, while rates decreased by an average of 9.0% per year to 27.6 live births for non-Hispanic black teens. For Hispanic teens, the birth rate dropped by an average of 9.3% per year from 2007 to 2017, from 75.3 to 28.9 per 1,000 teens. For non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native teens, the birth rate decreased by an average of 7.3% per year from 2007 to 2017, from 66.3 to 32.2 per 1,000 teens. These rates experienced an even bigger decline if you compared data from the mid-1990s to this day (and before the pandemic).
One population that has a higher rate of unplanned and teen pregnancies is the foster care population. It is more challenging to reinforce positive prevention messages when family structure is unstable. HHS has information on current effectiveness of several programs.