A new study has found that the teen birth rate in rural counties in the United States is nearly one-third higher than that in suburban and urban areas of the country.
The new research, compiled by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, used county-level data from the National Center for Health Statistics. The data found that even though rural areas cover 75 percent of the U.S., only 16 percent of the teen girls in the country live in these areas. Even still, teen girls living in rural counties accounted for one in five teen births in the U.S. in 2010. In that year, there were more than 1.7 million girls age 15-19 living in rural counties. The teen birth rate in rural counties was- 43 per 1,000 girls - compared to teen girls living in other areas where the rate was 33 per 1,000 girls.
What defines a rural county? For the purposes of this study, the authors defined it as both counties without any urban core and those with a core small town with a population less than 49,000.
Interestingly, while the age distribution of teens in rural counties was the same as that for the rest of the country - roughly 60 percent - the racial breakdown of the teens was quite different. Three-quarters of teen girls in rural counties were white, compared to only 36 percent in major urban areas (defined as having a population of 1 million or more.) And this explains why white teen girls account for nearly two-thirds of pregnant teens in rural countries - 63 percent.
The overall good news is that the teen pregnancy rate declined by almost 49 percent across all areas from 1990 to 2010. But the decline was slower for teen girls in rural areas - only 32 percent.
In the past, experts speculated that teen pregnancy was a larger concern in urban areas, simply because of the larger numbers of teens present. But this new research shows that rural teens might be the greater risk group. Why? A limited access to opportunities and services might account for the larger numbers of teen pregnancies in these areas.
So what does all of this data mean for teen girls? It means that while teen pregnancy is still a big concern across all areas of the U.S., health care professionals need to improve programs - education, access to health care services, and opportunities - to prevent teen pregnancy in rural areas in particular.