Today's story on the pregnancy of Bristol Palin, 17-year-old daughter of Sarah Palin, raises a variety of hot-button social issues. As ever, it can help to cut though the inevitable rhetoric with some data.
A good place to start is the CDC's fact sheet on teen pregnancy:
-"About one-third of girls in the United States get pregnant before age 20."
-More than 80 percent of births in this group "were unintended, meaning they occurred sooner than desired or were not wanted at any time."
-"When teens give birth, their future prospects and those of their children decline. Teen mothers are less likely to complete high school and more likely to live in poverty than other teens. Pregnant teens aged 15–19 years are less likely to receive prenatal care and gain appropriate weight and more likely to smoke than pregnant women aged 20 years or older. These factors are also associated with poor birth outcomes."
Separately, in a report on 2002 data, the CDC said 7.6 percent of U.S. teenagers were pregnant in 2002, down from 11.7 percent in 1990.
Per that report: “Despite the continuous declines, the U.S. teenage pregnancy rate is still among the highest among industrialized nations. The costs of teenage childbearing in the United States are substantial. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy recently estimated that $9.1 billion in public funding was expended on teenage childbearing in 2004. These costs include public assistance, health care, child welfare, and other expenses."
In another CDC report, 46 percent of high-school girls reported having had sexual intercourse in 2002, rising from 27 percent of 9th graders to 66 percent of 12th graders.
Attitudinally, in a CDC survey of 15- to 44-year-olds in 2002, large majorities of men and women (78 and 85 percent, respectively) disagreed that it’s “all right for 16-year-olds to have sexual relations if they have strong affection for each other.” More said this was OK for 18-year-olds – 51 percent of women, 60 percent of men. The report notes that acceptability of sex among 18-year-olds was far lower among “people for whom religion was very important in their daily lives.”
And in an AP/Ipsos poll last October, Americans divided on the best way to reduce teen pregnancy. Fifty-one percent said it was by “emphasizing sex education and birth control”; 46 percent, “by emphasizing morality and abstinence.”
Lastly, we ourselves conducted a fascinating, in-depth survey on teens and sex several years back. It's clearly as relevant as ever, and you can read it here.