Magazine article Conscience

51% Latinas and Teen Pregnancy

Magazine article Conscience

51% Latinas and Teen Pregnancy

Article excerpt

THE PROGRESS THE NATION has made in reducing teen pregnancy has been breath-taking. The teen pregnancy rate in the United States has declined 36 percent since 1990, and the teen birth rate has plummeted by one-third since 1991. Even more encouraging, adolescent pregnancy and childbearing have declined in all 50 states and among all racial and ethnic groups. This good news makes clear that progress on difficult social issues is possible--that commitment, attention and action can help solve a problem many once considered intractable.

Despite these impressive gains, the reductions in adolescent pregnancy and childbearing have been neither even nor uniform. Too many teens are still becoming parents, and nowhere is the problem more acute than in the Latino community.

The numbers are startling. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy estimates that 51 percent of Latina teens get pregnant at least once before age 20--nearly twice the national average. Moreover, the Latina teen pregnancy rate is declining at half the pace of the overall national rate, and some states are reporting rising rates of Latina teen pregnancy and childbearing. Latinas have the second-highest rate of teen pregnancy (second to African-Americans) and the highest teen birthrate among major ethnic and racial groups in the U.S.--nearly two times higher than the national average.

The consequences of early pregnancy and childbearing are well-documented and manifest. Teen pregnancy is closely linked to a host of other critical social problems--poverty, lack of overall child well-being, out-of-wedlock births, irresponsible fatherhood, health concerns, education gaps. There are substantial public costs associated with adolescent childbearing. Simply put, if more children in this country were born to parents who were ready and able to care for them, we would see a significant reduction in a host of social problems afflicting children in the U.S., from school failure and crime to child abuse and neglect. Or, in the words of Janet Murguia, president and chief executive officer of the National Council of La Raza, "High teen pregnancy rates are robbing our young women of too many opportunities--the opportunity to go to college, the opportunity to start a rewarding career and the opportunity to fulfill their dreams for a better future."

WHY HAS PROGRESS BEEN MADE?

If further progress is to be made in reducing teen pregnancy in the Latino community, a good place to start is by examining what has worked to date. Although they are usually left off the praise train, it is teens themselves who deserve the credit for the declines in teen pregnancy. Clearly, more young people now recognize the importance of using adolescence as a time for growing up, having fun and getting an education, rather than experiencing early pregnancy and parenthood, and are acting accordingly. Researchers agree that a combination of less sex and more contraception has contributed to the overall declines in teen pregnancy and childbearing. That is, more young people--including Latina teens--are waiting until they are older to have sex, and more sexually active teens are using contraception more consistently and carefully.

Given the exceedingly high rates of teen pregnancy in the Latino community, and given what we know about progress made in reducing these rates, what can be done to foster continued progress? Here are a few modest ideas:

Parents. Latino parents need to know that when it comes to young people's decisions about sex, parental influence has not been lost to peers and popular culture--a conclusion supported by over two decades of social science research. Parents are powerful, and they can use their power in sound, helpful ways. Among Latino teens, 46 percent of boys and 51 percent of girls say parents most influence their decisions about sex, according to a new national survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. …

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