Colorado leads drop in teen birth rate, 2008-2013

Yesterday I tweeted a figure of teen birth rate changes based on the fertility question in the American Community Survey. It showed Colorado with an above-average drop in teem births from 2008 to 2013, but not the biggest drop in the country. I have a better chart on this below.

The reason for the attention was this story in the New York Times, which reported:

Over the past six years, Colorado has conducted one of the largest experiments with long-acting birth control. If teenagers and poor women were offered free intrauterine devices and implants that prevent pregnancy for years, state officials asked, would those women choose them?

They did in a big way, and the results were startling. The birthrate among teenagers across the state plunged by 40 percent from 2009 to 2013, while their rate of abortions fell by 42 percent, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Since the article didn’t provide data for comparisons, and I knew teen births were declining all over, I wanted to see if Colorado’s experiment was really such a standout. The figure was republished by German Lopez at in a post on the Colorado program. Although the figure showed Colorado with a big drop, it still cast doubt on the program because it showed four states and DC with bigger drops.

I’m retracting that figure today, because I realized — and I should have known this — that we have teen birth rates by state and year from the vital records data reported by the National Center for Health Statistics. In these reports we can see that Colorado did, in fact, have the largest decline in teen births from 2008 and 2013 (their program started in 2009). Here’s the new figure:


The story isn’t that different between NCHS and ACS data, but Colorado is trying to raise money to continue the program, and it sure is nice for them to have this comparison. It’s great to have data right away — and share it — and it’s also great, even greater, to have better data. The vital records data is more complete and reliable, since it is not based on a sample, and teen births are rare enough now that sampling variation matters, even in a big sample like the ACS. So I regret that I published the earlier figure.

That said…

The teen birth rate is declining all over the country, even in places with terrible policies, so the Colorado program — valuable as it may be — is swimming with the tide.

The reason teen births are declining all over is because the teen birth rate is a myth — what’s really happening is women in the U.S. are having their children later, for economic and social reasons that go way beyond what’s happening with teens per se. I have written about this a few times:

See also:

4 thoughts on “Colorado leads drop in teen birth rate, 2008-2013

  1. You have been spreading this idea, “that, birth rates of teens have fallen by themselves along with birth rates of all women as women postpone birth”. First off, teens are not women. There has been a major effort on the part of CDC, states and other non-profit groups to drive down teen births. Showing a picture of rising older age birth does not prove your case, because women have to give birth sometimes, and given women birth rates have been between 65 and 71/100 K from 1975 to 2015. Looking at, Figure 4, no other age group has matched the teen birth drop (from 116.3 to about 40 for black teens, and from 100 to 39 for Hispanic teens from 1990 to 2010, and from 60 to 40/100 K overall). This is a major triumph for government policy and has impacted high school graduation rates, poverty rates and a number of health issues.

    Together with smoking reduction, reduction in automobile accidents, crime, reductions in teen births has been a major social policy success in the United States, and this has been a result of government policy initiatives and has been supported by both parties. Explanations such god’s hand and it happened by itself, do not hold water, and is an insult to the work of several faceless bureaucrats.


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