Teen pregnancy is a challenging and complex issue.


About Teen Pregnancy

What is a teen pregnancy rate?
A teen pregnancy rates is the number of pregnancies per 1,000 girls.

  • Rates are calculated each year in the following way:
  • (Number of Births + Number of Abortions + Number of Fetal Deaths)/Population

Teen pregnancy rates are especially helpful in prevention work because they provide an apples to apples comparison, even when population numbers change or when comparing counties of different sizes.

Where do teen pregnancy rates come from?
Teen pregnancy rates are provided by the NC State Center of Health Statistics, an independent department within the state Division of Public Health.

What ages are included in teen pregnancy rates? What about older and younger teens?
When we talk about teen pregnancy rates, we are generally referring to pregnancies among 15-19-year-old girls. We can also break this down by racial/ethnic group. We routinely report on pregnancy rates among 18-19-year-old girls because this age group accounts for more than 70% of teen pregnancies.

We do not publicly report on pregnancies among 10-14-year-old girls. Fewer than 200 younger teens in North Carolina get pregnant each year – and these numbers are much smaller at the county level. These pregnancies often result from abuse or statutory rape cases, therefore we do not report them publicly as to protect girls' identities.

What’s the difference between pregnancy and birth rates? Why do you talk about both?
The pregnancy rates reflect all live births, abortions, and fetal deaths. Birth rates only reflect rates of live birth. (The birth rate formula is simply Live Births/Population.)

NC Youth Connected primarily focuses on pregnancy rates because we believe it’s important for prevention-focused communities to fully understand the number of pregnancies in their area – whether they result in a birth or not. We also look at birth rates because most other states only report birth rates. Birth rates allow for comparison to other states or communities in other states.

What’s the big deal about teen pregnancy?
Teen pregnancy is connected to a number of other issues that matter to communities: poverty, dropout rates and low graduation rates, increased reliance on social services, lower attainment of higher education, reduced military/deployment readiness, reduced lifelong earning potential, child abuse and domestic violence, and more. In all, teen pregnancy costs North Carolina taxpayers more than $325 million each year.

How does Cumberland County compare to other counties?
In 2014, Cumberland County had the 18th highest teen pregnancy rate in North Carolina, with a rate of 46.9 per 1,000 15-19-year-old girls. African-American and Hispanic teens are far more likely to get pregnant than their white peers. In addition, 9.5% of all Cumberland 18-19-year-old girls got pregnant.

How much does teen pregnancy cost?
Taxpayers pay enormous costs related to teen pregnancy. North Carolina taxpayers paid $325 million in costs associated with teen pregnancy in 2010 alone. Locally speaking, Cumberland County taxpayers paid $15.6 million in costs associated with teen pregnancy.

Why are teen pregnancy rates going down?
Teen pregnancy rates are at historic lows in North Carolina and across the nation. Research and issue experts point to three key reasons:

  1. Teens are waiting longer to become sexually active;
  2. Today’s sexually active teens are more likely to use contraceptives than teens in the past; and
  3. more teens are using more effective contraceptive methods like the Implant and IUDs.

All of these are positive trends and many of the strategies used in NC Youth Connected are aimed at continuing this winning combination of less sex and more contraception.

What about abortion rates? Are they going down too?
When teen pregnancy rates go down, teen abortion rates typically go down too. Ninety-five percent (95%) of all abortions happen when a pregnancy is unplanned. Since the vast majority of teen pregnancies are unplanned, effective prevention can have a major impact on abortion rates.

Are some teens trying to get pregnant?
The vast majority of teen pregnancies are unplanned. In North Carolina, 80% of pregnancies to someone under age 20 are unplanned.

Why are 18-19 year-old pregnancies included in teen pregnancy rates? Aren’t 18 and 19 year-olds adults?
Most research on the negative consequences of teen pregnancy and parenting compares outcomes of parents and children under age 20 with those over age 20, and demonstrates that those negative consequences exist in 18-19 year-olds as well as younger teens. In fact, some research shows that younger teen parents sometimes have better outcomes than 18-19 year-olds because younger teens have a stronger social support system.

Research aside, most people understand that it is much easier to succeed as parents when you are financially, emotionally, and physically prepared to parents, and that most teens – including those who are technically legal adults – are not prepared.

Are most teen parents married or unmarried?
The majority of teen pregnancies and births happen to unmarried couples.

Shouldn’t couples be able to decide when to start a family?
Absolutely! Unfortunately, the vast majority of teen pregnancies are unplanned. While many of these young men and women go on to parent – and many do a great job! – we want to empower them with information and resources to avoid a pregnancy until they feel ready and intend to parent.

Are teen parents bad parents? Do you judge teen parents?
No! Young parents are more likely to face challenges that parents of any age would struggle with – a lack of resources and social support, stigma, and challenges with work and school. Young parents can be very successful parents when they have resources and support for these challenges.

What about Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)?
Cumberland County has high STI rates, and teens are especially at risk. About half of all new STI diagnoses in the United States happen to a teen or young adult. The strategies used by NC Youth Connected – including providing evidence-based health education programs, helping healthcare providers serve teens, and helping teens and families find the healthcare they need – are all proven to help address STIs, as well as teen pregnancy.

How common is teen sexual activity? How many teens are sexually active? Do most teens stay abstinent?
About half of all teens have had sex. The average age that a person starts having sex is around age 17. By age 20, the vast majority of teens will have had sex. These rates reflect a general trend of teens waiting slightly longer to have sex than in years past. In other words, today’s teens are waiting longer to have sex than their parents’ or grandparents’ generations did.