A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published Thursday has reaffirmed that the national teen birth rate is at its lowest ever. But there are still significant racial and class disparities.

The authors analyzed data from the National Vital Statistics System on the national, state, and country level. Countrywide, the birth rate among teens aged 15 to 19 has declined 41 percent from 2006 to 2014, with 24.2 births per every 1,000 women in 2014. The largest drops were seen in Hispanic and black women, at 51 percent and 44 percent, respectively. Despite the overall decline, however, these teens still had roughly double the birth rate of their white counterparts. When the authors cross-referenced their findings with census data from the American Community Survey, they additionally found that birth rates were higher in poorer areas with low educational attainment.

“Significant declines in racial/ethnic disparities have accompanied the historic decline in the overall teen birth rate in the United States since 2006,” the authors wrote. “Nonetheless, racial/ethnic and geographic disparities remain, both within and across states, and even where large declines in teen birth rates have occurred.”

Teen Birth Rate
Birth rates for women aged 15–19 years, as separated by race and ethnicity. National Vital Statistics System, United States, 2006–2014

These successes haven’t come accidentally. From 2010 to 2015, the CDC and other government agencies funded initiatives that targeted local communities with some of the highest teen birth rates in the country. Their interventions included a broader adoption of evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention programs; encouraging doctors to offer low-cost services and expand their hours; and convincing local community leaders of the urgency to combat teen pregnancy. According to the authors, some early evidence has shown that these efforts noticeably increased the number of teens with access to reproductive health care, including contraception.

“The United States has made remarkable progress in reducing both teen pregnancy and racial and ethnic differences, but the reality is, too many American teens are still having babies,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden in an accompanying statement. “By better understanding the many factors that contribute to teen pregnancy we can better design, implement, evaluate, and improve prevention interventions and further reduce disparities.”

While there’s nothing wrong with having a child at a young age, teen parents are less likely to graduate high school or obtain a well-paying job, which then makes them vulnerable to poverty. Their children in turn are more likely to follow in their footsteps. There’s also some research indicating these births are inherently less healthy, with developmental conditions like autism more likely among babies born to teen moms.

The researchers hope their findings highlight the importance of developing finely tuned prevention programs.

“These data underscore that the solution to our nation’s teen pregnancy problem is not going to be a one-size-fits-all — teen birth rates vary greatly across state lines and even within states,” said the report’s lead author Dr. Lisa Romero, a scientist in CDC’s Division of Reproductive Health. “We can ensure the success of teen pregnancy prevention efforts by capitalizing on the expertise of our state and local public health colleagues. Together, we can work to implement proven prevention programs that take into account unique, local needs.”

Source: Romero L, Pazol K, Warner L, et al. Reduced Disparities in Birth Rates Among Teens Aged 15–19 Years — United States, 2006–2007 and 2013–2014. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2016.