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332 PART FOUR: Children, Social Problems, and the Future of Childhood countries is that young women are delaying marriage but are becoming involved in sexual activity at younger ages than in the past. One important factor here is the declining age of puberty due to nutritional and other changes. At the turn of the 20th century, the average age of menarche for adolescent females was 14.8 years, whereas in 1999 the average age was about 12.3 years. Some adolescent girls begin to menstruate as early as 10 years of age (Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1994; S. Anderson & Musi, 2005). Thus, contemporary youth in industrialized society will live, on average, nearly a decade of their lives as sexually mature and single (Luker, 1991). Therefore, given that teens were more sexually active (with more sexual part- ners) in the 1980s and 1990s than they were 20 years earlier, it is not surpris- ing that we have seen some increase in nonmarital births. It is doubtful, however, that this increase in sexual activity over a longer period of time can, in and of itself, explain the rise in nonmarital births in the United States. Nor can it explain the differences we see between the nonmarital birth rates of the United States and most west European countries, where teens also face a long period of sexual maturity prior to marriage and where they report similar levels of sexual activity (Boonstra, 2002; Darroch, Singh, & Frost, 2001; E. Jones et al., 1985). Exhibit 11.4 Birth Rates for 15- to 19-Year-Olds in Selected Countries, 2011. 3.4 4.5 4.8 4.6 5.9 6.3 7.1 7.7 8.2 9.4 9.8 9.6 12.6 13.1 21.8 31.3 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 Switzerland Japan Netherlands Denmark Sweden Italy Norway Finland Germany France Greece Spain Canada Portugal United Kingdom United States Sources: Ventura et al. (2014); Statistics Canada (2016). Copyright ©2018 by SAGE Publications, Inc. This work may not be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means without express written permission of the publisher. Draft Proof - Do not copy, post, or distribute
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CHAPTER 11: Children, Social Problems, and Society 333 A second factor to consider is teens’ knowledge about reproductive pro- cesses and contraception as well as their access to contraception and abortion services. Here, the United States seems far behind most west European coun- tries, where extensive sex education programs in schools begin in the early grades, and contraceptive devices and services are widely available in clinics and pharmacies. In general, there is more openness about and tolerance of teenage sexual activity in the European countries than there is in most of the United States and in parts of Canada (Weaver, Smith, & Kippax, 2005). One reason for the more successful experience of the European countries may be that public attention is generally less focused on the morality of early sexual activity and more focused on the search for ways to prevent increased teenage pregnancy, abortions, and childbearing (Berne & Huberman, 1999; Schalet, 2004). In the United States, contentious debates arise about whether sex education and the availability of contraceptives will increase sexual activ-
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