SACRAMENTO — California’s teen birth rate has dipped below the national average for the first time since 1980, the state Department of Health Services reported Monday.
About 45 out of every 1,000 teen females, aged 15 to 19, gave birth in 2001, the lowest number since 1991, when 73 births per thousand were reported.
“More teens are entering their reproductive age in years to come than we’ve seen in previous times,” said Diana Bonta, director of the state Department of Health Services. “We must continue the downward teen birth rate trend ... and certainly encourage responsible behavior.”
California currently ranks 32nd in the nation, where it has remained for the last few years as national averages have also declined at a similar rate. Last year’s number put California just below the national average of 46 per thousand.
“We’ve kind of lagged behind the rest of the country and the national average,” said Anna Ramirez, chief of the Office of Family Planning. “This year is the first year we’ve had the great news.”
Officials attribute the decline to the state’s media campaign, which encourages sexual responsibility among teenagers and educates them about their options. The campaign — featuring the slogan, “It’s up to me” — offers messages to teenagers, such as, “We want to do really cool things with our time, not become parents before our time.”
Kathy Kneer, president of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, said this approach is more effective than the Bush administration’s focus on the practice of abstinence. “That probably hasn’t happened since Adam and Eve.”
California’s programs encourage male involvement in preventing unplanned pregnancy and absentee fatherhood, access to family health services and parent-teen communication, Kneer said.
For every dollar spent on these prevention services, she said, the state saves $4.48 on unplanned pregnancies.
State officials also reported a drop in the teen birth rate in 32 of California’s 58 counties. The Central Valley retains the highest rates, with Fresno, Kings and Yuba counties leading the state with almost 70 births per thousand. Marin County came in with the lowest at only 12.9.
When broken down by ethnicity, the birth rate remains the highest among Hispanic teens, with 86.2 births per thousand. African American teens have the next highest birth rate, with 53.3, and Asian and Pacific Islander Americans have the lowest, with 15.6. All ethnic groups, however, have experienced a drop from the previous year.
While California’s teen birth rate has hovered around the median, statistics compiled by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy show the state typically has had one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country.
Kneer insisted the statistic does not reflect an increase in abortions, citing a 60 percent decrease in state-funded abortions for all females since 1990.