The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy recently released new statistics on national and state teen birth rates from 2014.
First, though, it’s important to note the differences between teen birth rates and teen pregnancy rates, as the two differ substantially.
The Campaign’s teen pregnancy rates haven’t been updated since 2010, but the numbers for every state are double, if not more, than the birth rates. The drop-off is due in large part to national access to abortion, as well as miscarriages.
According to the data, our state has 38.5 teen births for every 1,000 girls from ages 15-19. This placed Oklahoma 49th of the 50 states, meaning we currently have the 2nd highest rate of teen births, only behind neighboring Arkansas with a 39.5.
One potential concern with this data is that it only looks at girls attending high school, so it’s possible that the rates should be higher across the nation as some girls may drop out of school to work or take care of their baby at home.
This data may be disheartening, but it also shows that Oklahoma’s rate has dropped by 47 percent since 1991, the peak year for teen births nationwide.
This success certainly isn’t something to ignore, but it still ranks Oklahoma 45th of the 50 states in terms of percent change.
The average change in birth rates since ‘91 has been 61 percent down, and the top ranked state, Delaware, has gone down by 81 percent.
New England is doing very well overall, in fact, as 9 of the 10 states with the lowest birth rates are in the region. In contrast, the southern region of the US has a majority of the states with the highest rates in the nation.
What does New England do that we don’t?
One difference is in demographics. The average income in New England states is about $20,000 more than Oklahoma’s, and OK has a higher percentage of its people living in poverty.
There are many reasons for the correlation between poverty and teen parenthood, such as norms in the family system. This isn’t something that can be fixed by directly attacking teen birth, but by attacking poverty and seeing rates go down as a side-effect.
Many states in New England also teach comprehensive sex education in high school. Oklahoma, and many southern states, may teach abstinence-only sex ed if they teach anything.
This leads to an uneducated population of teenagers in this region that are still having sex, but just aren’t doing it safely.
The National Campaign has data from 2013 about the percentage of sexually active high school students, as well. They found that, of the 36 states they have data on, Oklahoma was ranked 33rd with 36.2 percent of high schoolers sexually active.
Many New England states have also invested in long-acting reversible contraception, or LARCs. These include methods like an IUD, which require initial setup outside of sexual contact but last for several years and are very effective. Oklahoma hasn’t invested much money into these contraceptive methods.
Teen births aren’t an easy problem to fix. However, there are plenty of places to start for our state to not only rise in the interstate rankings, but to help our children be more informed and safe in sexual practices.