National Campaign Helps Reduce the Rate of Teen Pregnancy by One-Third in 10 Years

Field of Work: Reducing teen pregnancy

Problem Synopsis: During his State of the Union address in January 1995, President Bill Clinton identified teen pregnancy as "our most serious social problem." The White House then convened a series of meetings to discuss the merits and possible activities of a nonpartisan, private sector-led campaign to reduce teen pregnancy. Participating advocates cited several reasons to create the campaign:

  • More than 40 percent of young women in the United States became pregnant before they reached age 20—the highest rate in the fully developed world. Some 85 percent of those pregnancies were unintended.
  • Teen pregnancy and childbearing carry high levels of risk for both mothers and babies:
    • Teen mothers have a maternal death rate 2.5 times higher than mothers aged 20–24.
    • Teen mothers are also more likely to live in poverty and depend on public assistance, and are much less likely to finish high school and attend college.
    • Their children are at greater risk of low birthweight and infant mortality, and suffer from higher rates of abuse and neglect and more health and developmental problems.

Synopsis of the Work: From 1997 to 2008, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy worked to reduce the rate of teen pregnancy and early parenting in the United States by one-third in 10 years.

Key Results

  • By 2005, the U.S. rate of teenage pregnancy had declined by more than one-third since the early 1990s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The National Center for Health Statistics issued projections in 2008 that suggest that the Campaign has met its 1996 goal as well (data on pregnancy rates in 2006 are still not available). Teen births also fell to the lowest level ever recorded.
  • Campaign messages appeared in newspapers and magazines and on television and radio programs seen by hundreds of millions of people.
  • The Campaign changed the national debate on teen pregnancy, according to Nancy Barrand, RWJF special advisor for program development and program officer for this project.

Key Findings

  • Respondents to a survey of the Campaign's five target groups—media executives, state and community leaders, state and local purchasers of Campaign materials, public policy leaders and journalists—ranked it as their primary resource on preventing teen pregnancy.
  • State and local leaders of coalitions to address teen pregnancy, and people who bought Campaign materials, overwhelmingly asserted that the Campaign made them more effective.
  • The Campaign also persuaded less traditional players in the field—media executives, journalists and policy-makers—that they could have an impact on teen pregnancy.
  • Most respondents considered the Campaign an objective source of information on a topic that is often politically and ideologically controversial.