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Explaining Recent Trends in the U.S. Teen Birth Rate

  • Melissa Schettini Kearney
  • Phillip B. Levine

We investigate trends in the U.S. rate of teen childbearing between 1981 and 2010, giving particular attention to the sizable decline that has occurred since 1991. Our primary focus is 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; in fact, all else equal, a rising share of Hispanic teens would have led to an increase in teen childbearing. A temporary increase in the share of teens aged 18-19 can account for nearly half of the transitory increase in teen childbearing around 1991. Second, the only targeted policies that have had a statistically discernible impact on teen birth rates are declining welfare benefits and expanded access to family planning services through Medicaid. However, the combined effect of these two policies is estimated to account for only 12 percent of the observed decline in teen childbearing from 1991-2010. Third, weak labor market conditions, as measured by the unemployment rate, do appear to lead to lower teen birth rates and can account for 28 percent of the decline in teen birth rates since the Great Recession began.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 17964.

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Date of creation: Mar 2012
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17964
Note: CH LS
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  1. Melissa Schettini Kearney, 2004. "Is There an Effect of Incremental Welfare Benefits on Fertility Behavior?: A Look at the Family Cap," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 39(2).
  2. Joseph Sabia, 2008. "Blacks and the family cap: pregnancy, abortion, and spillovers," Journal of Population Economics, Springer, vol. 21(1), pages 111-134, January.
  3. Bruce D. Meyer & Dan T. Rosenbaum, 2001. "Welfare, The Earned Income Tax Credit, And The Labor Supply Of Single Mothers," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 116(3), pages 1063-1114, August.
  4. Anna Aizer & ASara McLanahan, 2006. "The Impact of Child Support Enforcement on Fertility, Parental Investments, and Child Well-Being," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 41(1).
  5. Paul Offner, 2005. "Welfare Reform and Teenage Girls," Social Science Quarterly, Southwestern Social Science Association, vol. 86(2), pages 306-322.
  6. Justin Wolfers, 2006. "Did Unilateral Divorce Laws Raise Divorce Rates? A Reconciliation and New Results," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(5), pages 1802-1820, December.
  7. Joseph J. Sabia, 2006. "Does sex education affect adolescent sexual behaviors and health?," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 25(4), pages 783-802.
  8. Jeff Grogger & Stephen G. Bronars, 2001. "The Effect of Welfare Payments on the Marriage and Fertility Behavior of Unwed Mothers: Results from a Twins Experiment," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 109(3), pages 529-545, June.
  9. Ann Horvath-Rose & H. Peters & Joseph Sabia, 2008. "Capping Kids: The Family Cap and Nonmarital Childbearing," Population Research and Policy Review, Springer, vol. 27(2), pages 119-138, April.
  10. Christopher Trenholm Barbara L Devaney Kenneth Fortson Melissa Clark Lisa Quay Justin Wheeler, 2008. "Impacts of Abstinence Education on Teen Sexual Activity Risk of Pregnancy and Risk of Sexually Transmitted Diseases," Mathematica Policy Research Reports 07c254b39a974b8498917396d, Mathematica Policy Research.
  11. Christopher Trenholm & Barbara Devaney & Kenneth Fortson & Melissa Clark & Lisa Quay & Justin Wheeler, 2008. "Impacts of abstinence education on teen sexual activity, risk of pregnancy, and risk of sexually transmitted diseases," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 27(2), pages 255-276.
  12. Joyce Ted & Kaestner Robert & Korenman Sanders, 2003. "Welfare Reform and Non-Marital Fertility in the 1990s: Evidence from Birth Records," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 3(1), pages 1-36, December.
  13. Girma, Sourafel & Paton, David, 2011. "The impact of emergency birth control on teen pregnancy and STIs," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(2), pages 373-380, March.
  14. Melissa Schettini Kearney & Phillip B. Levine, 2011. "Income Inequality and Early Non-Marital Childbearing: An Economic Exploration of the "Culture of Despair"," NBER Working Papers 17157, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Robert Kaestner & June O'Neill, 2002. "Has Welfare Reform Changed Teenage Behaviors?," NBER Working Papers 8932, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. Leonard M. Lopoo & Thomas DeLeire, 2006. "Did welfare reform influence the fertility of young teens?," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 25(2), pages 275-298.
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