Teen birth rates in the U.S. are at an all-time low and continue to decline — with a significant drop of about two-thirds over eight years — but the comparatively large number of teens having babies remains a concern.
The number of new mothers aged 10 to 14 years in the U.S. hit a low, according to new statistics from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
In 2016, there were more than 2,200 infants born to mothers aged 10-14, compared to more than 8,500 in 2000.
This drop is “pretty remarkable,” according to the T.J. Mathews, the demographer at the National Center for Statistics at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, who compiled the data. by reviewing “all the birth certificates for the entire United States.”
Mathews estimates 3.8 million births in the U.S. annually from moms of all ages.
The birth rate for females aged 10 to 14 years declined by a third from 2000 to 2003, remained stable through 2008, and declined by 67 percent from 2000 to 2016.
The current rate of births to pre-teen mothers is 0.2 in 1,000 live births. The largest decline was among African-American pre-teens. While they still have the highest rate, 0.5 in 1,000 births, it has been significantly reduced since 2000.
Certain states that have higher rates than others, the data showed. The states with the highest birth rates for girls in this age group are Louisiana, Mississippi, Delaware and the District of Columbia.
The decline in pre-teen motherhood coincides with a similar decline in teen motherhood, defined as girls aged 15 to 19. The birth rate in this age group fell by 57 percent from 2000 to 2016.
The CDC attributes the decline in pre-teen and teen motherhood to delayed onset of sexual activity and increased use of contraception.
Multiple federal, state, and non-profit agencies have assisted in the efforts to reduce the pregnancy rate in women less than 20 years old.
But some perspective: Despite these improvements, the U.S. birth rate among teenage girls remains one of the highest compared to other industrialized countries, according to a 2015 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
Teen pregnancy and childbearing remains a public health issue because it often leads to significant financial and societal costs.
Teen mothers continue to have elevated high school dropout rates and the children of teen moms are more likely to have lower school achievement, health problems and eventual unemployment, according to research compiled by the CDC.
While the drop in births to pre-teen mothers in the U.S. represents progress, there is more work to do.
Laura Shopp, M.D. is a third-year pediatrics resident affiliated with Indiana University who works in the ABC News Medical Unit.