Federal Sex Ed Programs Linked to Decrease in Teen Pregnancy

The birth rate for U.S. teenagers dropped 3% in counties where a federally funded sex education program was introduced, a recently published paper says.

Researchers concentrated on the effects of the Teen Pregnancy Prevention program (TPP), which was introduced during the Obama administration and administered on the county level. TTP programs provide more information on sex, contraception, and reproductive health than abstinence-only programs, the paper said.

“​​Sex education in the United States has been hotly debated among researchers, policy makers, and the public,” Nicholas Mark, a doctoral candidate in New York University’s Department of Sociology and the lead author of the paper, said in a news release. “Our analysis provides evidence that funding for more comprehensive sex education led to an overall reduction in the teen birth rate at the county level of more than 3 percent.”

Researchers examined teen birth rates in 55 counties from 1996-2009, before TTP, and from 2010-2016, after TTP. Next, they compared teen birth rates in the 55 counties with teen birth rates in 2,800 counties that didn’t have the funding in the years before and after TPP was introduced.

In the 55 counties, teen birth rates fell 1.5% in the first year of TTP funding and fell about 7% by the fifth year of funding, for an average drop of 3%, the news release said.

“We’ve known for some time that abstinence-only programs are ineffective at reducing teen birth rates,” said Lawrence Wu, a professor in NYU’s Department of Sociology and the paper’s senior author. “This work shows that more wide-reaching sex education programs—those not limited to abstinence—are successful in lowering rates of teen births.”

The paper was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

The paper said the findings probably understate the true effect of more comprehensive sex education at the individual level.

The authors said the findings are important because U.S. women are more likely to become mothers in their teens than women in other developed nations, with many teen pregnancies reported as unintended, the authors said.

As of 2020, teen birth rates and the number of births to teen mothers had dropped steadily since 1990. Teen birth rates fell by 70% over three decades.

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