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California Teen Birth Rate Falls to Record Low, Officials Credit Comprehensive Sex Education as a Factor

On February 22, 2010, the California Department of Public Health announced that the state’s teen birth rate had reached a record low in 2008, the most recent year for which data were available.[i] The rate of births among young women ages 15–19 was 35.2 per 1,000 females which was the lowest rate ever recorded in California and down from 37.1 in 2007. California has seen its teen birth rate decrease every year since 1991, when it was 70.9, more than double the 2008 rate.[ii] The statistics show that teen births decreased by 0.8 percent among 15- to 17-year-old girls and by an impressive 4.7 percent among 18- to 19-year-olds.[iii]

The statistics also show a precipitous decline in the birth rate for Hispanic girls; whereas birth rates for White, Asian, Pacific Islander, and African-American teens experienced a gradual decline between 2006 and 2008, the rate among Latinas dropped by 13.7 percent from 65.9 in 2006 to 56.9 in 2008.[iv] Births to Hispanic mothers accounted for 72.6 percent of teen births in California in 2008.
California’s teen birth rate is significantly lower than the national teen birth rate, which has been increasing for the past two years after bottoming out at 40.5 in 2005. In 2007, the most recent year for national-level data, California’s rate was 37.1, almost 13 percent lower than the national rate of 42.5.[v]
Ken August, a spokesman for California’s Department of Public Health, pointed to the state’s emphasis on comprehensive sex education as a factor in the decrease: “California has consistently included abstinence education in its approach but that has not been the sole strategy that the state has employed,” he said. “In addition we have also encouraged that information be provided to teens that promotes responsible behavior, whether they are sexually active or not. Other states have…focused more on abstinence.”[vi]
Laurie Weaver, chief of the Office of Family Planning at the California Department of Public Health, attributed the decline to the state’s teen pregnancy prevention efforts, which included family planning programs, comprehensive sexuality education, and reproductive health services. She added, “We believe the only 100% effective way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease is through abstinence, but we do believe it is important…that [teens] should be fully informed of contraceptives and have access to services.”[vii]
Teen pregnancy prevention can also produce significant savings for state budgets, which is crucial in the current economic downturn. Due to the decreased teen birth rate, there were 2,859 fewer births in California in 2008 than there would have been if the rate had stayed constant from 2007.[viii] Officials estimate that the state saved $98 million in medical and social expenses from the decline in teen births, because teen mothers often have increased rates of pre-term deliveries, low birth weights, and higher infant mortality rates, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).[ix] In fact, it has been estimated that preventing pregnancies among teenagers can save up to $9 billion nationwide every year.[x]
“SIECUS commends California for its excellent work in providing teens with accurate, comprehensive sexuality education, which has been proven to be effective at getting young people to delay sexual activity and to use condoms and contraception when they become sexually active,” said Jen Heitel Yakush, director of public policy at SIECUS. “California’s comprehensive approach to sex education was instrumental in improving the state’s teen birth rates. By giving teens the resources necessary to make informed decisions, they have equipped them with the tools they need to prevent unintended teen pregnancy and make safe and healthy decisions in their lives.”

[i] California Department of Public Health, “California’s Teen Birth Rate Reaches Record Low,” Press release published 22 February 2010, accessed 12 March 2010 <>

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] California Department of Public Health, “California Teen Birth Rate Data 2008 PowerPoint,” accessed 12 March 2010 <>

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Dan Whitcomb, “Births By Teen Girls Hit Record Low in California,” Reuters, 22 February 2010, accessed 12 March 2010 <>

vii] Amina Khan, “New Figures Show Teen Births Hit a Record Low in California,” L.A. Times, 23 February 2010, accessed 12 March 2010 <>

[viii] “California Teen Birth Rate Data 2008 PowerPoint,” accessed 12 March 2010 <>

[ix] Kim Lamb Gregory, “Sex Ed Credited for Dip in State’s Teen Birth Rate,” Ventura County Star, 22 February 2010, accessed 12 March 2010 <>

[x] Ibid.