Investigating Recent Trends in the U.S. Teen Birth Rates

Melissa Kearney and Phillip Levine, Journal of Health Economics 41, 15-29, May .


We investigate trends in the U.S. rate of teen childbearing between 1981 and 2010, focusing specifically on the sizable decline since 1991. We focus 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. Second, the only targeted policies that have had a statistically discernible impact on aggregate teen birth rates are declining welfare benefits and expanded access to family planning services through Medicaid, but these policies can account for only 12.6 percent of the observed decline since 1991. Third, higher unemployment rates lead to lower teen birth rates and can account for 16 percent of the decline in teen birth rates since the Great Recession began.

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