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What other factors influence which states have the highest teen birthrates?

There were a lot of provocative comments on my recent post on the geography of teen birthrates in America. In it, I found that teen birthrates remain highest in America’s most religious, politically conservative and blue-collar states.

A few of them in particular caught my eye. Some commenters asked whether race played a factor — do states with higher non-white populations also have higher teen birthrates?  

While teen birthrates do vary by race — in 2010, the birthrate for white teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 was 23.5 per 1,000, compared to 51.5 for black (non-Hispanic) teens, and 55.7 for Hispanic teenagers — there is little association between a state's teen birthrate and the racial breakdown of its population. When my colleague Charlotta Mellander ran the correlations for race, she found was no statistically significant association between teen birthrates and the Hispanic share of a state population. There was also no statistical association between teen birthrates and the share of population that is white. There was a modest positive association (.32) between teen birthrates and the black share of a state population.

Several other commenters wondered about teens who were married when they gave birth. Could Southern states have lower average marriage ages, and could that impact the teen birthrate?

The CDC report on which my analysis was based did not provide data on this. However, there are some interesting relationships between marriage generally and teen birthrates. On the one hand, there is a modest negative correlation between teen births and the average length of marriage in a given state (-.36). On the other, teen birthrates are positively correlated with a state's divorce rate (.44). In other words, teen birthrates tend to be slightly higher where divorce is more frequent, and slightly lower where marriages tend to be longer. But the strongest relationship we found (.72) is between the teen birthrate and the rate of serial marriage (people who have been married three or more times) in a state.

A number of other readers speculated that there was a connection between teen birthrates and abortion, suggesting the states with higher rates of abortion would have lower birthrates for teenage mothers. As one commenter wrote: "perhaps abortion rates are higher in low birthrate states." 

Our analysis found a modest negative correlation (-.39) between teen birthrates and abortion rates across the states. That is, states with higher abortion rates tend to have lower teen birthrates. It is unlikely, however, that the association is causal. Rather, the connection between teen pregnancy and abortion seems to turn on differences in state policies toward abortion.  

States with the highest rates of teens giving birth tend to have the most stringent restrictions on abortions, including stricter parental notification rules and far fewer abortion service providers. Teens from these states face considerable obstacles to gaining access to abortion and other sexual heath services and frequently must travel to other states to obtain abortion services, if they can afford to.  I will have more to say about this in a future post on the geography of abortion.

Photo credit: Dmitry Kalinovsky/Shutterstock

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