On Tuesday, the Washington Post ran an article about the slight decline in the teen birthrate in 2008. This decline has received more attention than usual. Between 1991 and 2005, the teen birthrate declined for 15 consecutive years. However, since 2005, the percentage of teens giving birth actually increased somewhat. Some commentators are saying that this decline may be evidence that this recent trend is reversing.
One cannot predict future trends in teen birthrates based on a single datapoint. However, what is interesting is the manner in which the Post chose to cover this study. First, no mention of minor abortion trends appears anywhere in the article. Second, even though the article quotes some supporters of abstinence education, the author cannot help but take some subtle jabs at abstinence programs. For instance, the author states many believe that President Obama’s teen-pregnancy program will eliminate funding for abstinence programs because much of the money “was targeted only at curricula that had produced convincing scientific evidence that they work.”
However, this February a study which appeared in The Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine found evidence that abstinence programs were effective in reducing sexual activity among sixth and seventh graders. Even the group “Advocates for Youth” which is usually very critical of abstinence programs, praised the study, calling it “quality research” and “good science.” While there have been other studies which have demonstrated the effectiveness of abstinence programs, this study garnered more attention because it had a unique control mechanism and because it appeared in a very visible peer-reviewed journal.
No mention of this was found in the Washington Post article. Like many mainstream media outlets, it seems all too eager to dismiss abstinence programs as ineffective. As usual, the positive consequences of abstinence and abstinence programs receive scant attention.
– Michael J. New is an assistant professor at the University of Alabama and a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J.