Despite a steadily dropping teen birth rate, the United States still lags behind such Western counterparts as France and Sweden when it comes to reducing teen pregnancies, births and abortions, according to a study released today by the Alan Guttmacher Institute.
The study attributes the other countries' success, in large part, to teaching young people more about birth control and allowing them greater access to it. The study also says the other countries, including Great Britain and Canada, provide more incentives for teens to delay childbearing.
A group that advocates abstinence-only education took issue with the study, saying that when birth control is taught in the classroom it can drive up pregnancy rates.
Institute researchers acknowledged a federal report showing that the birth rate among U.S. teens last year dropped to a record low of 48.7 births for every 1,000 females, ages 15 to 19. That represents a 22 percent overall drop since 1991.
"But we still have a long way to go compared to these other countries," said Jacqueline Darroch, the Guttmacher Institute's vice president for research.
The New York-based organization is a private research group that focuses on reproductive health issues.
In France and Sweden, for example, the teen birth rates in 1998 and 1999 hovered around 10 births per 1,000 or less the lowest of all five countries mentioned in the study. This was true even though the percentage of teens who are sexually active is roughly the same in the 60 percent range in each of the nations, the report said.
Among other things, the study found that U.S. teens use contraceptives, especially hormonal methods such as injections and implants, less often than their foreign counterparts.
Heather Cirmo, spokeswoman for the Washington-based Family Research, a group that supports abstinence-only education, said more birth control education is not the way to reduce pregnancies.
"When we've had contraceptive education in the classroom in the 1970s, for example we've seen pregnancy rates go up," Cirmo said.
Surgeon General David Satcher issued a report in June that urged schools to encourage abstinence but to also teach about birth control. The report was strongly criticized by the Bush administration, which has called for increased federal funding for abstinence-only education.
To do the study, the Guttmacher Institute used research teams in each country to collect comparable data from reproductive health officials, including statistics on birth rates and sexually transmitted disease treatments for teens.
The project was funded by the Ford Foundation and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.