Study: U.S. Teen Birthrates Fall, but Europe Does Better

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Byline: Cheryl Wetzstein

The United States could learn a lot from Canada and European countries, which have much lower teen pregnancy and birthrates, says a study released today by a leading sexuality research organization.

U.S. teen birthrates declined during the 1990s, but "even states with the lowest rates are still at or above these other countries," said Jacqueline Darroch, vice president for research at the Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI) and principal researcher of the study.

"Looking at these outcomes led us to believe there are lessons we can learn from other countries," she said.

Traditional family groups, however, said the Europe-is-better message is part of a propaganda campaign from sex education advocates who want to eliminate funding for abstinence education.

"Strong families will solve the `teen pregnancy problem' by solving the root problem - failed relationships," Focus on the Family said in a report issued in June on European and American sex-education models.

The 100 page-plus AGI study, released today, is a large-scale study of teen sexual and reproductive behavior between 1998 and 2001 in the United States, Sweden, Canada, Britain and France. It found that:

* The United States has the highest rates for teen pregnancies, births, abortions and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

* Teen sexual activity and age of sexual debut "do not vary appreciably" among the five countries; however, U.S. teens are most likely to start having intercourse at the youngest age (around 15) and have multiple sexual partners.

* European youths are more likely to use birth control, especially birth-control pills, than U.S. teens.

"The high U.S. rates arise primarily because of less, and possibly less-effective, contraceptive use by sexually active teen-agers," said the AGI study, which was funded by the Ford Foundation and Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Easier access to birth control and reproductive health services would lower American teen birthrates, as would "full information" about sexuality and wider "societal acceptance of sexual activity among young people," the study concluded. …