Why Fewer Women Are Getting Pregnant in Their Early 20s

April Daniels Hussar, SELF magazine

Pregnancy rates for U.S. women in their early 20s dropped almost 18 percent from 1990 to 2008, according to a new report that also saw abortion rates dropping for that same age group. So what's happening here?

According to the report, released by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), 198.5 per 1,000 women in the 20 to 24 age group became pregnant in 1990. Fast forward to 2008 and that number drops 18 percent to the lowest level in more than three decades: 163 pregnancies per 1,000 women aged 20 to 24. The abortion rate also dropped 32 percent in this age group, to 38.4 per 1,000 women in 2008 from 56.7 per 1,000 in 1990.

For women in their later 20s, between the ages of 25 and 29, the pregnancy rate fell only 6 percent during the same time period, to 167.9 per 1,000, and the abortion rate fell only slightly to 28.6 per 1,000 in 2008 from 33.9 per 1,000 in 1990.

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Rachel Jones, Ph.D., a senior research associate at the Guttmacher Institute (a nonprofit organization focused on sexual and reproductive health research, policy analysis and public education), tells HealthySELF that the NCHS report reflects the same trends published earlier this year by Guttmacher.

"There's no good research that definitively explains what's going on there," Jones says of the decline in pregnancies for women in their early 20s, citing the long time period the report covers and the fact that "there's a lot of variation from state to state for a variety of reasons." However, broadly speaking, Jones says a couple of factors are most likely contributing to this trend, the first being access to and usage of contraception.

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"During the time covered by the report, there was a significant increase in funding to federally funded family-planning services," Jones says, noting that younger women are more likely to be uninsured, and therefore more likely to benefit from access to affordable family planning health care.

The report also shows an increase in pregnancies among women in their 30s and 40s, so it's possible, says Jones, that younger women are choosing to delay both marriage and babies.

Also, says Jones, the introduction of new methods of birth control like the patch and the ring might have contributed to the decrease in pregnancies among 20-somethings, as well as the resurgence of IUDs in the last five years or so. She says IUDs in particular are a highly effective contraceptive method because they don't depend on users using them correctly.

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Of course, contraception sometimes fails, and not everyone is careful about using it, leading to unplanned pregnancies. Though both pregnancy and abortion rates are down for 20-somethings (which, Jones says, make sense: fewer pregnancies means fewer abortions), other recent Guttmacher research shows the incidence of unintended births (babies born who were unplanned) has actually increased for women in this age group.

"Even though fewer women in their 20s were getting pregnant and having abortions during this time period, more of them were having unintended births," says Jones.

Indeed, there are still a whole lot of babies being born: According to the report, in 2008, a grand total of 4,248,000 babies came into the world. And, though fewer 20-somethings are getting pregnant, if you love going to baby showers, don't despair! Not only did pregnancy rates for women in their 30s and early 40s increase, but women aged 25-29 had the highest pregnancy rate (as they have in the past). Teen pregnancies, on the other hand, dropped a whopping 40 percent to a historic low of 69.8 per 1,000 girls and women aged 15-19. Maybe watching Teen Mom is an effective form of birth control?



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