National Partnership for Women & Families

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Disproportionate Share of Teen Births Occur in Rural Areas, Study Finds

Disproportionate Share of Teen Births Occur in Rural Areas, Study Finds

February 22, 2013 — The teen birth rate in rural areas is nearly one-third higher than in the rest of the U.S., according to a study released on Thursday by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, USA Today reports.

The study examined county-level data from the National Center for Health Statistics from 2010. The researchers also relied on the NCHS urban-rural classification system, which defines rural counties as those with populations under 50,000 and metropolitan counties as those with populations of 50,000 or more.

Key Findings

In 2010, the birth rate in rural counties was 43 births per 1,000 female teens ages 15 through 19, compared with 33 per 1,000 among the same age group in metro areas, the study found. Although the nationwide teen birth rate has fallen to record low levels, the decline has been more gradual in rural areas. Between 1990 and 2010, the teen birth rate in rural areas decreased by 32%, compared with a 49% decline in major urban areas and a 40% drop in the suburbs.

Although 16% of U.S. teen girls live in rural counties, they account for one in five teen births, the study added. The disparities between rural and urban areas was consistent across all ethnic and racial groups. Among Native Americans, the teen birth rate is more than three times higher in rural communities.

Factors Behind Variation in Teen Birth Rates

Bill Albert, chief program officer for the National Campaign, said that the disproportionate share of teen births in rural areas likely is "a combination of factors that range from availability of clinical services to poverty and educational opportunities." He called for more targeted efforts in rural communities to help teens prevent pregnancy.

In addition, rural teens' ability to access birth control "lags far behind availability for teens living in urban and metro areas," said Julia De Clerque, a research fellow and investigator at the University of North Carolina who was not involved in the study (Healy, USA Today, 2/21).