Explaining Recent Trends in the U.S. Teen Birth Rate

42 Pages Posted: 31 Mar 2012

See all articles by Melissa S. Kearney

Melissa S. Kearney

University of Maryland - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Phillip B. Levine

Wellesley College; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: March 2012

Abstract

We investigate trends in the U.S. rate of teen childbearing between 1981 and 2010, giving particular attention to the sizable decline that has occurred since 1991. Our primary focus is on establishing the role of state-level demographic changes, economic conditions, and targeted policies in driving recent aggregate trends. We offer three main observations. First, the recent decline cannot be explained by the changing racial and ethnic composition of teens; in fact, all else equal, a rising share of Hispanic teens would have led to an increase in teen childbearing. A temporary increase in the share of teens aged 18-19 can account for nearly half of the transitory increase in teen childbearing around 1991. Second, the only targeted policies that have had a statistically discernible impact on teen birth rates are declining welfare benefits and expanded access to family planning services through Medicaid. However, the combined effect of these two policies is estimated to account for only 12 percent of the observed decline in teen childbearing from 1991-2010. Third, weak labor market conditions, as measured by the unemployment rate, do appear to lead to lower teen birth rates and can account for 28 percent of the decline in teen birth rates since the Great Recession began.

Suggested Citation

Kearney, Melissa S. and Levine, Phillip B., Explaining Recent Trends in the U.S. Teen Birth Rate (March 2012). NBER Working Paper No. w17964. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2031973

Melissa S. Kearney (Contact Author)

University of Maryland - Department of Economics ( email )

College Park, MD 20742
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Phillip B. Levine

Wellesley College ( email )

106 Central Street
Wellesley, MA 02181
United States
781-283-2162 (Phone)
781-283-2177 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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