What Affects Teen Birthrates More - Sexuality Education or Political, Demograhic, and Religious Factors? A Study of 24 States

 

Source: Patricia A. Cavazos-Rehg et. al., “Associations Between Sexuality Education in Schools and Adolescent Birthrates,” Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine (February 2012)
 
Summarized by Xochitl Mota-Back, SIECUS Public Policy Intern
 
Description:
Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis released a study which finds that states with higher measures of conservatism and religiosity tend to have higher teen birthrates. The study focuses on adolescent birthrates from 1997–2005 among girls aged 15–17.1 State adolescent birthrates were measured as the number of live births per 1,000 girls. Sexuality education is measured as an average percentage of 13 sexual health topics taught in each state.2 States included in the analysis are those which participated in the School Health Profiles conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for at least 3 of the years examined in the study. 3 Demographic measures included state-level poverty rates, race/ethnicity, and violent crime rates of each state. A religiosity index was derived from a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.4 Degree of conservatism was measured by an annual measure of state’s preferences on a liberal-conservative scale.Lastly, the analysis categorized adolescent abortion laws for each state as they stood in 2005 (categories included ‘parental consent’, ‘parental notification’, ‘no law’, ‘law enjoined’ or ‘minor allowed’).
 
Key Findings:
  • Lower adolescent birthrates were found in states where a higher percentage of sexuality topics were taught
  • Higher adolescent birthrates were found in states with higher religiosity rankings and greater political conservatism
  • A state’s demographic characteristics, level of religiosity, and abortion policies appeared to have more of an effect on adolescent birthrates than the percentage of topics covered in school-based sexuality education
 
Analysis:
In general, birthrates for U.S. girls aged 15–17 have steadily decreased since 1997. Nonetheless, there are variations in adolescent birthrates among states. This study reveals an association between the amount of sexuality education provided in schools in a particular state and its respective adolescent birthrate. In states where sexuality education covers a greater range of topics, adolescent birthrates are lower. Eight topics in particular are associated with lower adolescent birthrates: HIV infection prevention, pregnancy prevention, sexually transmitted disease prevention, abstinence as the most effective method to avoid HIV, how HIV is transmitted, condom efficacy, how to correctly use a condom, and human sexuality. However, once researchers include demographic characteristics, religiosity, and degree of conservatism of the state virtually all effects of sexuality education disappear. Though there is a strong correlation between teaching sexuality education and a lower teen birthrate, there is a stronger connection between social determinants of health (rates of poverty and violent crime) and political and religious climates on adolescent birthrates.
 
This study suggests that providing higher levels of sexuality education can result in lower adolescent birthrates; however, this effect is limited by the political and religious characteristics within any given state. Sexuality education stakeholders – that is, policy makers and advocates, health care providers, educators, parents, and youth leaders – must take their state’s unique political and religious makeup into account when determining how to make the case for more resources to support comprehensive sexuality education.
 
Cavazos-Rehg PA, Krauss MJ, Spitznagel EL, Iguchi M, Schootman M, Cottler L, Grucza RA, Bierut LJ (2012). Associations between sexuality education in schools and adolescent birthrates. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 166(2):134-140. <http://archpedi.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/short/166/2/134>
 
Topics include: HIV infection prevention, pregnancy prevention, sexually transmitted disease prevention, abstinence as the most effective method to avoid HIV infection, how HIV is transmitted, condom efficacy, how to correctly use a condom, number of young people who get HIV, how to find valid information or services related to HIV/HIV testing, human sexuality, influence of alcohol and other drugs on HIV-related risk behaviors, how HIV affects the human body, and social or cultural influences on HIV-related risk behaviors.
 
3 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, School Health Profiles. <http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/profiles/>
 
4 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. <http://www.pewforum.org/>

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