Family Planning Perspectives
Volume 33, Number 6, November/December 2001
Differences in Teenage Pregnancy Rates
Among Five Developed Countries: The
Roles of Sexual Activity and
By Jacqueline E. Darroch, Susheela Singh, Jennifer J. Frost and the Study Team
Context: Adolescent pregnancy, birth, abortion and sexually transmitted disease (STD)
rates are much higher in the United States than in most other developed countries.
Methods: Government statistics or nationally representative survey data were
supplemented with data collected by private organizations or for regional or local
populations to conduct studies of adolescent births, abortions, sexual activity and
contraceptive use in Canada, the United States, Sweden, France and Great Britain.
Results: Adolescent childbearing is more common in the United States (22% of women
reported having had a child before age 20) than in Great Britain (15%), Canada (11%),
France (6%) and Sweden (4%); differences are even greater for births to younger
teenagers. A lower proportion of teenage pregnancies are resolved through abortion in the
United States than in the other countries; however, because of their high pregnancy rate,
U.S. teenagers have the highest abortion rate. The age of sexual debut varies little across
countries, yet American teenagers are the most likely to have multiple partners. A greater
proportion of U.S. women reported no contraceptive use at either first or recent
intercourse (25% and 20%, respectively) than reported nonuse in France (11% and 12%,
respectively), Great Britain (21% and 4%, respectively) and Sweden (22% and 7%,
Conclusions: Data on contraceptive use are more important than data on sexual activity in
explaining variation in levels of adolescent pregnancy and childbearing among the five
developed countries; however, the higher level of multiple sexual partnership among
American teenagers may help explain their higher STD rates.
Family Planning Perspectives, 2001, 33(5):244-250 & 281
Despite recent declines, the current level of births to adolescents continues to be much
higher in the United States than in most other developed countries.
in U.S. rates have only succeeded in moving the country's levels slightly closer to where
those of most other developed countries were during the late 1990s.
(By 2000, the