U.S. Pregnancy Rate Lowest in Two Decades

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An estimated 6,240,000 pregnancies resulted in a live birth, induced abortion, or fetal loss (miscarriages or stillbirths) in the United States in 1996, half a million fewer than in 1990 when the number of pregnancies reached its peak. The pregnancy rate in 1996 was 104.7 pregnancies per 1,000 women aged 15-44 years, 9 percent lower than in 1990 and the lowest rate since 1976.

The pregnancy rate declined for all women under 30 years of age, but the sharpest drop was among teenagers, with the teenage pregnancy rate falling by 15 percent from 1991 when it reached a record high. Among the factors driving this downturn in teenage pregnancies are increases in condom use, the adoption of the effective injectable and implant contraceptives, and the leveling off of teenage sexual activity. Pregnancy rates remain highest for women in their twenties.

A new report from the National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracks the effects of changes in sexual activity, marriage patterns, contraceptive use, attitudes and economic and educational opportunities on pregnancies, and pregnancy rates over the past two decades in the United States. Using complete counts of births from the birth registration system and estimates of abortions and fetal loss, the report examines patterns by age, race and Hispanic origin, and marital status.

The 6 million-plus pregnancies in 1996 in the U.S. resulted in 3.9 million births, 1.3 million induced abortions, and almost a million fetal deaths. This means that 62 percent of pregnancies ended in a live birth, 22 percent ended in abortion, and 16 percent ended in a miscarriage or stillbirth. Trends in birth, abortion, and fetal loss have varied over the past 20 years, but since 1990 the rates for all three have declined: live births, down 8 percent; induced abortions, down 16 percent; and fetal loss, down 4 percent.

Pregnancy outcome differs markedly by marital status. The birth rate for married women is almost 10 times their abortion rate. For unmarried women, birth and abortion rates are nearly equal. However, in recent years unmarried women were increasingly more likely to give birth and less likely to have an induced abortion.

Overall, U.S. women are currently averaging 2.0 live births, 0.7 induced abortions, and 0.5 miscarriages and stillbirths, or a total of 3.2 pregnancies each, of which only 1.8 are wanted births - that is, "wanted" by the woman when the child was conceived.

The report documents striking differences in pregnancy rates by race and ethnicity, reflecting disparities in education, income, access to medical care, and the communities in which they live. Black women report that they want about the same number of births as white women, but black women have almost twice as many pregnancies. Hispanic women want and have substantially more births than either white or black women. Pregnancies among black women are twice as likely to end in abortion as pregnancies among white and Hispanic women.

"Highlights of Trends in Pregnancies and Pregnancy Rates by Outcome: Estimates for the United States, 1976-96," can be viewed or downloaded from the NCHS home page. Additional tables are also available below. A comprehensive report on the topic was released February 11, 2000.

Pregnancy, live birth, induced abortion, and fetal loss rates by age, race, and Hispanic origin of woman: United States, 1990-95.
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Numbers and rates of pregnancies, live births, induced abortions, and fetal losses for teenagers, by age, race, and Hispanic origin: United States, 1996.
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Pregnancy, live birth, and induced abortion rates by marital status and race and Hispanic origin: United States, 1980 and 1990-95.
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Measures of teenage sexual activity and pregnancy for women aged 15-19 years, by age: United States, 1995.
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