States With Highest Teenage Pregnancy and Birth Rates

More Teens Become Pregnant, Give Birth in These States

Positive Pregnancy Test
Don Farrall/Photodisc/Getty Images

While the teen pregnancy rate has been declining overall over the past two decades, rates of teen pregnancy and birth can vary wildly from state to state within the United States. However, there seems to be a connection between sex education (or the lack thereof) and high rates of teen pregnancy and parenthood.

The Data

A recent report by the Guttmacher Institute compiled teenage pregnancy statistics in the United States gathered state by state in 2010.

Based on available data, below are listings of states ranked by pregnancy and birth rates.

States with the high rates of pregnancy among women age 15-19  in ranked order*:

  1. New Mexico 
  2. Mississippi 
  3. Texas 
  4. Arkansas
  5. Louisiana
  6. Oklahoma
  7. Nevada
  8. Delaware
  9. South Carolina
  10. Hawaii

In 2010, New Mexico had the highest teenage pregnancy rate (80 pregnancies per 1,000 women); the next highest rates were in Mississippi (76), Texas (73), Arkansas (73), Louisiana (69) and Oklahoma (69). The lowest rates were in New Hampshire (28), Vermont (32), Minnesota (36), Massachusetts (37) and Maine (37). 

States ranked by rates of live births among women age 15-19*:

  1. Mississippi 
  2. New Mexico
  3. Arkansas 
  4. Texas 
  5. Oklahoma
  6. Louisiana 
  7. Kentucky
  8. West Virginia 
  9. Alabama
  10. Tennessee

In 2010, the teenage birthrate was highest in Mississippi (55 per 1,000 in 2010), and the next highest rates were in New Mexico (53), Arkansas (53), Texas (52) and Oklahoma (50).

The lowest rates were in New Hampshire (16), Massachusetts (17), Vermont (18), Connecticut (19) and New Jersey (20). 

What Does This Data Mean?

For one, there seems to be an ironic correlation between states with conservative politics around sex education and contraception and high rates of teen pregnancy and birth.

Some research suggests that "U.S. states whose residents have more conservative religious beliefs on average tend to have higher rates of teenagers giving birth. The relationship could be due to the fact that communities with such religious beliefs (a literal interpretation of the Bible, for instance) may frown upon contraception ... If that same culture isn't successfully discouraging teen sex, the pregnancy and birth rates rise."

Furthermore, teen pregnancy and birth rates are often higher in rural areas rather than more urban areas. Think Progress reports "While teens across the country have largely been having less sex and using more contraception, teens in rural areas have actually been having more sex and using birth control less frequently. It’s not clear why that’s the case, but it could partly be because teens in rural areas still lack access to a range of comprehensive contraceptive services. There just aren’t as many sexual health resources in rural counties, where teens may have to travel farther to the nearest women’s health clinic. And deeply rooted attitudes about sex — including school districts that continue to cling to abstinence-only health curricula that don’t give teens enough information about methods to prevent pregnancy — may also play a role.

Urban school districts, particularly in New York City, have made significant advances in expanding teens’ access to sexual education and resources, but there often aren’t similar pushes in rural places."

Ultimately, the data underscores that it is not simply because teens are engaging in risky behaviors, such as having unprotected sex. They are also engaging in sexual activity while being un- or under-informed and while lacking access to contraception and family planning services. 

Consequences of Teen Parenthood

Having a child young often incites problematic life outcomes for teen mothers. For example, just 38% of women who have a child before age 20 finish high school. Because many teen mothers drop out of school to parent full-time support around their education is crucial. While supportive social infrastructure to aid young parents is key, but often missing, particularly in states with large percentages of teen pregnancies.

One small way to help is to start a Babysitters Club so they young mothers can take GED classes and continue their educations. 

As the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy argues "by preventing teen and unplanned pregnancy, we can significantly improve other serious social problems including poverty (especially child poverty), child abuse and neglect, father-absence, low birth weight, school failure, and poor preparation for the workforce." However, until we tackle the large infrastructural issues around teen parenthood, the issue seems unlikely to go away anytime soon. 

"U.S. Teenage Pregnancy Statistics National and State Trends and Trends by Race and Ethnicity" Guttmacher Institute September 2014.