The Rapid Decline in the Teen Birth Rate Remains a Giant Mystery

America's teen birth rate has been falling at an unprecedented rate for the past five years, which is great news; frustratingly, though, no one really knows why this is happening. (We do know that Teen Mom has yet to be ruled out as a contributing factor.)

According to data recently released by the CDC, the teen birth rate has fallen 57 percent since 1991. Between 2007 and 2013, the rate of decline was particularly rapid: in those five years alone, it fell 29 percent. There are a lot of reasons to be excited about this — 77 percent of teen births are unplanned (unwanted or "too soon"), and teen mothers significant more likely to drop out of high school. It's also really, really costly: the CDC report states that the reduction in the birth rate saved taxpayers $12 billion in 2010 alone.

So that's great! Let's keep it up! Um, well, the problem is that no one really knows what, specifically, we need to continue doing. "We're frankly a little stumped trying to explain the recent decline," Columbia University professor and researcher John Santelli told Vox. "You want to say, well, let's just keep doing what we're doing. But then you have to answer the question: what in the world are we doing?"

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Myriad theories abound (and have abounded for years now). It's possible that several of these theoretical factors combined into a "perfect storm" of sorts — the recession caused birth rates to plummet across the board because no one wants to plan for a baby in this post-capitalistic hellscape; teens have better access to IUDs and other forms of contraception; and everyone freaked the fuck out after watching all of 16 and Pregnant, Teen Mom and Teen Mom 2. A perfect storm if ever there was one.

It's worth noting that abortion rates have fallen along with the teen birth rate, so that's not a contributing factor. Per the CDC report, "The teen abortion rate fell 56% in the 1991–2009 period... but it has actually declined 63% since its peak in 1988. Trends in teen birth rates have thus roughly paralleled the trends in teen pregnancy rates since the early 1990s."

Since Teen Mom 2 isn't getting great ratings any more and the economy is looking a bit less dire, I suggest we keep the teen birth rate in decline by providing kids with sex ed programs that don't suck. Just a thought! Crazy, I know.

Image via CDC.