Texas ranked No. 1 in teen birth rate

by Amaury Nora

The United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate of any country in the industrialized world; Texas has the highest teen pregnancy rate (63 births per 1,000 females ages 15-19) of any state in the nation, according to a newly released study of children’s health, KIDS COUNT Data Book, issued by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Texas achieved this title in 2003 and it seems nothing really changed in 2004. More concerning, Texas surpasses the national average of 41 births per 1,000 teens by nearly 20 points. According to the National Vital Statistics Reports, in 2003 the number of teen births in Texas was 51,091.

Even though Texas has seen a decline in the number of teen births, apparently this was not enough to lower our ranking. One reason, according to Frances Deviney of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, is that Texas has a high rate of Hispanics (35 percent of Texas population) and they tend to produce more teen mothers than other groups. What exactly did she mean by this statement? Unfortunately, we cannot blame the media for misquoting her; it is a statement she also made in the press release. The reason this concerns me is that it’s easy to assume that the reason teen pregnancy is high among young Latinas is because they are hyper-sexualized, a stereotype that continues to plague Latinas (voluptuous, sexy, morena, vixen, exotic, and sensual, etc.) – in other words, they’re hot mamacitas with insatiable appetites for sex.

The problem with stereotypes is that they force people to live out their lives in accordance with these extremely pervasive roles. Statements such as these seep into the collective public subconscious, causing us to believe that Latinas do have large sexual appetites and that they’re ready to hop into bed at the sight of a man. However, the facts do not support myths. According to a study published by the National Center for Health Statistics, it was found that Latinas 15-17 years of age are less likely to have sex than their non-Hispanic black or white counterparts.

The same is true for 18-19 year olds. In the first age group 30% of non-Hispanic white girls, 41% of non-Hispanic black girls, and 25% of Hispanic girls report having had sexual intercourse with a male. In the second age group 68% of non-Hispanic white girls, 77% of non-Hispanic black girls, and 59% of Hispanic girls report having done so (p. 24). And, of those girls who had had sex in the previous four weeks, 19% of non-Hispanic white girls had had sex 4 or more times in that period compared with 13% for both black girls and Hispanic girls.

While teen pregnancy and birth rates have declined in the Latina/o community, the reality remains that one in two Latina teens (51%) are still getting pregnant at least once before they reach the age of 20, according to the National Campaign Latino Initiative. That is nearly twice the national average. Why is there such a high pregnancy and birth rate when there’s less sexual activity? The reasons behind why young Latina/o teens get pregnant are both complicated and numerous. One thing is for sure, the old methods of advising a young female adolescent to “put a penny between your knees and keep it their” is useless advice and so is “sexual silence.”

It is important to recognize that teen pregnancy is both a cause and consequence of poverty. That is, high rates of teen pregnancy and childbearing reflect in part the existing disadvantage and limited opportunities for many in the Latina/o community. It is important to understand that many Latina/o youth are at high risk for teen pregnancy due to the same factors as other minority youth, such as socioeconomic status and educational attainment. However, it is also vitally important to understand that there are other risk factors that contribute. These factors tend to be related to cultural issues, such as acculturation, family values, attitudes about motherhood, religion, and traditional gender roles. It is easy to tick off stats on the dangers of teen pregnancy, and for some it does make a difference, but not enough to solve the problem. To get to heart of the matter, we must have a firm understanding how these cultural risk factors play a role because it is these factors that influence the level of knowledge or lack of knowledge one possesses about sex and contraceptives.

If we really are serious about curbing teen pregnancy, it definitely will not be done through Bush’s “Abstinence-Only” Program. Even though the Latino heritage is a rich and diverse, it is not monolithic. The Latino culture in the US varies not only by country of origin, but by regions and ethnicities within those countries. Yet, there are some common values among these various cultural. Some of these core values can be used to great effect when designing or implementing prevention programs in Latino communities.

One must also keep in mind there is no such thing as a generic Latina/o youth. There are varying levels of Spanish language usage, different cultural traditions and values, and an urban Tejana/o will have a different set of values from a Tejana/o from the Valle or from California and so on. There are also different levels of perceived discrimination, degrees of political organization, and social and economic dislocation among Latino subgroups.

And finally, using a “one size fits all approach” is not the solution. This approach tends to stereotype community members and their needs, and in the end it wastes valuable resources by designing inappropriate prevention efforts and inadvertently neglects of the needs of specific groups in the community.

11 replies »

  1. Given the way the post is written, the first question that comes to mind is whether the number of Hispanic births is a problem for Hispanics or just disturbing to white folks with low birth rates. After all, Hispanic women in ALL age groups (from mid-teens to mid-40s) are giving birth at a higher rate than non-Hispanic whites of comparable age in the United States. The real peak in Hispanic births comes in the early to mid-20s!

    A couple of decades ago, whites were concerned over the rate of non-Hispanic black teenage births. Now, the “problem” is with Hispanic teens. Another obvious question is whether births among Hispanic teens are a spike or a trend. After all, births to single mothers are becoming more common. Since births to unmarried women of ALL ethnic groups in the United States have increased since 1970, are Hispanic teenage births merely a symptomatic manifestation of a broader trend?

    A third line of questioning concerns the role of Frances Deviney. Contrary to the implication of the post, the Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP) is not an apparent arm of the state nor is Frances Deviney a spokesperson thereof. So, why the concern over her statement? According to the CPPP website, they are “a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization” created “to improve health care access for the poor.” More information may be found by clicking http://www.cppp.org/about/whatwedo.php

    The reality is that Mexican women tend to marry several years earlier than their American counterparts. At the same time, teenagers in the United States tend to be more promiscuous than peers in most other cultures. Hence, the problem may be relatively naive young Hispanic women thrown into a predatory hedonistic society for which nothing in their background prepares them to cope. While the current generation may be behind the learning curve, future generations will have a better grasp of the pitfalls inherent in the American lifestyle.

  2. It’s also worth noting that if Herb Meyer’s comments in my previous post are any indication, the Hispanic birthrate may be the only thing that saves the American economy–the neocons were counting on the guest worker program not only to ensure low-skill service jobs got filled, but that the workers would leave pregnant wives and girlfriends behind to breed, shop, and continue the cycle when they went back to Mexico.

    Outstanding post, Edmundo.

  3. The US is simply importing a standard problem that affects all developing countries. Less educated people have less work opportunities. Women, in particular, suffer from their lack of skills worse than men since they don’t tend to get work on building sites or industrial plants where manual labour is required.

    Poor people with low savings rates regard their children as their pension and so have more children, and start at a younger age. And Martin is spot-on in pointing out that, with the baby-boomers retiring over the next decade, many are counting on the relative youth of the US’s (still growing) population to allow it to avoid the demographic crunch facing the EU.

    The difference in the US, as compared to say Mexico (or most of Africa), is that there are more economic opportunities and so generation shift tends to be quite rapid.

    It will be interesting to see what happens over the next decade. If US immigration remains as fraught then a greater “burden” will fall on the local population to work. Average wages may rise and this, in turn, will bring more unskilled women into the workplace. As that happens they will have fewer children and those children will have better opportunities.

    That’s the positive spin, anyhow. Bad policies can always stuff things up 😉

  4. Some sense of neocon thinking is probably to be found in former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay comment: “If we had those 40 million children who were killed [by abortion] over the last 30 years, we wouldn’t need the illegal immigrants to fill the jobs that they are doing today”?

  5. Hispanics are largely Catholic and have always believed in large
    families. What is wrong with that?
    I just don’t want children born to illegal immigrants automatically
    granted citizenship.

    Tom Delay – Why wasn’t that asshole aborted? Screw these right
    wing neocons. You fuckers are history in 2008! We The People
    have had it with you and this President……..

  6. threebells – the concern over CCCP, they are one of the most influential think tanks in the state.

    “problem may be relatively naive young Hispanic women thrown into a predatory hedonistic society for which nothing in their background prepares them to cope.” – exactly and I touch more of that in my post on my blog in the comment section.

  7. Is there any reason to believe that CPPP acted in anyway other than its stated mission of “nonpartisan, nonprofit research”? In other words, have they morphed into spin-misters with an agenda or two secreted in their portfolio?

  8. Martin – thank you. to be honest, that line of thinking is not far fetched for the neocons.

    whythawk – the problem is that everybody loves having a Big Mac at a low cost or buying things at a lower cost, but they just refuse to see how this was accomplished.

  9. Despite repeated attempts, I was unable to read your comments at xicanopwr.com/2007/07/one-more-thing…. because the link column runs down the center of the text column in the browser I am using.

  10. It’s not just the girls who fit into this equation, it’s also the guys.

    I remember in one of my college sociolgy classes (I think Marriage & Family) we talked about that the traditionalist hispanic male (Spanish speaking, Catholic, believes in strict male & female roles) is very unlikely to use condoms.

    If these are teenage hispanic girls (who are also likely to date men older than them) they are unlikely to be on the pill or fitted for a diapragm. Again, there is the Catholic ban on birth control, the lack of access to doctors (without parent’s knowledge), and the inability to pay for it (most teenagers are unemployed and aren’t pulling in the allowance to cover for a monthly expense like the pill, especially since they would be doing it outside of insurance to hide from parents).

    A comparison I would like to see would be the teen pregnancy rates & abortion rates combined, to give an accurate statistic of who is really getting pregnant, not just going to term.