Despite a sharp and continuing decline in the rate of teen childbearing and a leveling off in the rate of nonmarital childbearing, the U.S. teen childbearing rate remains high compared with other industrialized nations, while nonmarital childbearing rates are in the mid-range of industrialized countries (Doyle 2002). Both teen and nonmarital childbearing are associated with negative outcomes for mother and child (Maynard 1996; DHHS 1995; Seltzer 2000). These forms of childbearing also bring with them substantial costs to society; the cost of the welfare system is a source of particular concern (Maynard 1996; Moore and Wertheimer 1984). Childbearing by young and unmarried women continues to concern health practitioners, educators, the media, and the public. Indeed, the federal welfare law includes provisions to offer states incentives to discourage teen and nonmarital childbearing.
While the period of decline in teen childbearing and the leveling off in nonmarital childbearing rates has coincided with the implementation of welfare waivers and a reformed welfare system, many other factors beside welfare rules may have played a role. They include the following:
- The vigorous economic expansion, which drew to a close in 2000;
- The expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit;
- An emerging consensus that mothers with nonmarital births should work to help support their child;
- Increased use of new methods of contraception, especially Depo-Provera and Norplant(R);
- Increased education about HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases;
- A focus on males as well as females for policies affecting reproductive behavior;
- Increased focus on child support enforcement; and
- A rise in conservative attitudes toward premarital sex.
Child Trends conducted a survey in 2001 of all 50 states to learn how specific state policies and programs to discourage teen and nonmarital childbearing have changed since the 1999 and 1997 surveys. We summarize our findings after we review the trends in teen and nonmarital childbearing.