Teen pregnancy rates have fallen more steeply in Canada over the last decade than in the United States, England or Sweden, a new study shows.
Between 1996 and 2006, the most recent year for which information is available for all four countries, Canada’s teen pregnancy rate declined in each consecutive year, falling from 44.2 per 1,000 women aged 15 to 19 in 1996 to to 27.9 in 2006. That represents a 36.9 per cent decline over the course of a decade, compared to a 25 per cent decline in the U.S., a 4.75 per cent dip in England (where statistics include Wales) and a 19.1 per cent increase in Sweden.
"What’s striking is that the magnitude of decline appears to be more significant in Canada," says Alex McKay, lead author of the study and research co-ordinator with the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada (SIECCAN), which released the study Wednesday morning. "Declining teen pregnancy rates for the country in general are indicative of better sexual and reproductive health among young women."
In 2006, Canada’s teen pregnancy rate was lower than any of the other three countries, he says, and Canada has seen a decline both in babies born to teenage mothers and pregnant teens seeking abortions.
The Canadian teen birthrate fell 38 per cent over a decade and the teen abortion rate declined by 35.7 per cent, compared to a 21.7 per cent decrease in the teen birthrate in the U.S. and a 28.6 per cent drop in the teen abortion rate. In England, by comparison, teen birthrates fell 13.2 per cent and the abortion rate increased by 9.1 per cent, while Sweden’s teen birthrate dropped 22.1 per cent and abortions rose by 30 per cent.
In Canada, the "teen pregnancy rate" typically includes births, abortions and stillbirths or miscarriages, but because of differences in the data among the four countries, the teen pregnancy rate for this study was calculated based on live births and abortions only. The miscarriage rate in this age group is "minuscule," McKay says, so this likely had very little impact on the overall statistics.
Over the last decade, just over half of Canadian teen pregnancies ended in abortion, with births accounting for 45 to 50 per cent of teen pregnancies in any given year. In the U.S. over the same time period, births accounted for 65 to 70 per cent of teen pregnancies, while in England, that figure hovered between 58 and 64 per cent.
In Sweden, however, teen births represent a small and declining portion of teen pregnancies, accounting for 19.1 to 30.3 per cent of teen pregnancies over the 10-year period in the study. By 2006, abortion accounted for about 80 per cent of Sweden’s teen pregnancy rate. The study notes that the country’s teen birthrate has been falling even while its teen pregnancy rate has risen 19.1 per cent.
"Swedish researchers seem to explain that by saying that for young women in Sweden, abortion is considered to be a viable – but at the same time undesirable – way of dealing with teen pregnancy," says McKay.
When it comes to teen sexual behaviour in Canada and the U.S., he says the research is clear that the decline in teen pregnancy can be attributed largely to more sexually active young people using reliable contraception such as condoms and birth control pills.
"By and large, the Canadian teenager today is not more or less likely to be sexually active than the Canadian teenager from a decade ago," McKay says. "But what is different is that the sexually active teenager today is more likely to protect themselves against unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections."