CDC Study Shows Teen Pregnancy About Education, Not Race

High rates among all races are clumped in the South, where comprehensive sex ed is rare.

By Kai Wright Oct 21, 2010

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports this week that teen pregnancy in the South is outpacing the rest of the country by a striking degree. The top 10 states for teen pregnancy rates in 2008 were in the South and Southwest, while the 10 lowest are clumped primarily in the Northeast.

Sexual health advocates have pointed out another geographic trend for this: the placement of comprehensive sex education programs in public schools vs. head-in-the-sand abstinence-only versions.

"The report demonstrates that the surest way to reduce teenage pregnancy is to provide young people with comprehensive, medically accurate sex education, and doing so is especially urgent for African Americans and Latino teens, who are getting pregnant more frequently than other young people," said Planned Parenthood Federation of America education director Leslie Kantor (h/t The Hill)

That last bit is of course key. Pregnancy rates among black and Latina teens have long been much higher than the national rate, and this study repeats those findings. In 2007, the most recent year there’s race-specific data, Latina teens had birth rates three times that of whites while black teens had rates twice as high. So the geographic trend is at least in part driven by the fact that the South and Southwest have higher percentages of black and Latino residents. 

But CDC stresses in the report that racial disparities don’t fully explain the regional disparities. In fact, across racial groups, teen pregnancy rates are lowest in the Northeast and West–places that tend to have comprehensive sex-ed programs. New York, New Jersey and California appear in the top 10 for lowest rates among all three racial groups. And white teens in the Southeast solidly lead the way for birth rates among whites nationally. 

What’s this mean? That while black and Latina teens are most likely to get cheated by retrograde sexual education in public schools, it screws over everybody.