U.S. Pregnancy Rate Lowest in Two Decades

New Report Documents Trends in Births, Abortions, and Miscarriages

For Release: February 11, 2000

Contact: NCHS/CDC Public Affairs (301) 458-4800

E-mail: paoquery@cdc.gov

Trends in Pregnancies and Pregnancy Rates by Outcome: Estimates for the United States, 1976-96. Vol. 21, No. 56. 60. pp. (PHS) 2000-1934. [PDF – 348 KB]

The number of pregnancies (live births, induced abortions, and fetal losses) in the United States fell from 6.78 to 6.24 million, a decline of about half a million between 1990 and 1996. The pregnancy rate in 1996 was 104.7 pregnancies per 1,000 women aged 15-44 years, 9 percent lower than in 1990 and the lowest rate since 1976.

The pregnancy rate declined for all women under 30 years of age, but the sharpest drop was among teenagers, with the teen pregnancy rate falling by 15 percent from its record high in 1991. Among the factors driving this downturn in teen pregnancies are increases in condom use, the adoption of the effective injectable and implant contraceptives (especially among teen mothers), and the leveling off of teen sexual activity. Pregnancy rates remain highest for women in their twenties. For example, the pregnancy rate at age 20-24 years was 140 per 1,000 women (14 percent) for white women, 302 (30 percent) for black women, and 277 (28 percent) for Hispanic women.

A detailed, comprehensive new report from the National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracks the effects of changes in sexual activity, marriage, contraceptive use, and other factors on pregnancies and pregnancy rates over the past two decades in the United States. Using complete counts of births from the birth registration system and estimates of abortions and fetal loss, the report examines patterns by age, race and Hispanic origin, and marital status.

The 6 million-plus pregnancies in 1996 in the U.S. resulted in 3.9 million births, 1.3 million induced abortions and almost a million fetal deaths. This means that 62 percent of pregnancies ended in a live birth, 22 percent in abortion and 16 percent in a miscarriage or stillbirth. Trends in birth, abortion, and fetal loss have varied over the past 20 years, but since 1990 the rates for all three have declined: live births, down 8 percent; induced abortions, down 16 percent, and fetal losses, down 4 percent.

Pregnancy outcomes differ markedly by marital status. The birth rate for married women is almost 10 times their abortion rate. In contrast, for unmarried women, birth and abortion rates are nearly equal. However in recent years unmarried women were increasingly more likely to give birth and less likely to have an induced abortion.

Overall, U.S. women are currently averaging 2.0 live births, 0.7 induced abortions, and 0.5 miscarriages and stillbirths, or a total of 3.2 pregnancies each, of which only 1.8 are wanted births – that is, “wanted” by the woman when the child was conceived. The fraction of births that are wanted by the mother is closely associated with the amount of education the woman has.

The report documents striking differences in pregnancy rates by race and ethnicity, reflecting disparities in education, income, access to medical care, and the communities in which they live. Black women report that they want about the same number of births as white women, but black women average 4.6 pregnancies per woman, compared with just 2.7 for white women. Only 39 percent of black women’s pregnancies result in wanted births, compared with about 60 percent for Hispanic and non-Hispanic white women. Pregnancies among black women are twice as likely to end in abortion as pregnancies among white and Hispanic women.

The teenage abortion rate dropped from 1988 to 1996, from 43.5 per 1,000 to 29.2—a 33 percent decline. The overall teenage pregnancy rate has declined since 1991, falling 15 percent from 117 per 1,000 to 99 in 1996. The proportion of teen pregnancies ending in nonmarital birth has increased sharply, rising from 25 percent of teen pregnancies in 1982 to 42 percent in 1995 and 1996. Changes in abortion rates at other ages were small.

The birth rate for childless teens dropped from a peak of 50 (births per 1,000 teens) in 1991 to 45 in 1997, a drop of about 10 percent. This decline may be related to the increase in condom use at first intercourse, and the decline in the proportion of teens who wait a year or longer after first intercourse to begin contraceptive use. But the teen 2nd birth rate fell from 221 (births per 1,000 teens with one child) to 174, a decline of 21 percent. This change may be related to the rapid adoption of injectable and implant contraception among teens with children, and to increases in the consistency of condom use by teen males. These changes in contraception were also found among both white and black mothers 20-24 years of age.

In more prosperous neighborhoods (measured by median neighborhood income, unemployment rate, or percent of households on welfare in 1990), lower proportions of both black and white teenagers had had sexual intercourse in 1995. Teens with more educated mothers and teens in two-parent families were also less likely to have had intercourse in 1995. These findings and previous research suggest that strong families and economic prosperity are associated with a lower risk of teenage pregnancy.