Graphic of teen birth rates in United States
TEEN BIRTH RATES: Arkansas is second worst for teen birth rates in the country, only behind Mississippi by one-tenth. Mary Hennigan

Arkansas teens are giving birth at a rate nearly double the national average, according to a new report from the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.

The Arkansas teen birth rate is 27.8 per 1,000, while the national rate is 15.4 per 1,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The only state worse than Arkansas for teen birth rates is Mississippi by one-tenth.

Advertisement

Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families named multiple variables that contribute to the state’s high rate, but the “biggest difference is their [the teens] use of contraceptives.” As Arkansas teens age, they become less likely to use effective contraceptives, which is unlike young people in other states.

According to 2020 Arkansas law, Arkansas schools must teach abstinence, and curriculum is not required to be medically accurate. If students want contraceptives, parental consent must be given in writing, and the clinic has to keep records of distribution. Also, Arkansas law states that no school-based health clinic or state funds should be utilized for abortion referral or services in public schools.

Advertisement

Alongside these laws, the state has almost completely banned abortion, with no exception for rape or incest. The only exception to the law is if the abortion will save the pregnant person’s life. 

To combat the high teen birth rate, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families recommended policy solutions such as mandatory statewide curriculum for “medically accurate sexual education” and free access to long-acting, reversible contraception. It also said that the state should expand access and eliminate barriers to health care for Black women and girls, and target communities whose birth rates are far above the average.

Advertisement

While both the national teen birth rate and the Arkansas rate have decreased in the last decade, other states have cut teen pregnancy rates more quickly. Arkansas is one of 10 states that have a rate from 20 – 28 per 1,000. Among Arkansas girls who become pregnant, 78% said they did not become pregnant on purpose.

While teen birth is one trackable statistic, the lives of the children born afterward is also worth investigating. Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families said that giving birth at a young age has “serious implications for a family’s health and standard of living.” The demands of parenting and providing for a child can easily put further education out of reach, decreasing earning potential for young parents and making resources like medical care, housing and utilities difficult to provide. In turn, these factors impact the child’s achievements academically, professionally and economically.

Advertisement

“Children whose parents are teens are more likely to become teen parents themselves, which contributes to the cycle of poverty and lower education levels,” according to the report.

The report also noted that there is a racial disparity among young mothers — Black mothers are “much more likely” to give birth preterm to babies with low birth weights. This group, while no more sexually active than other groups of teens, has the highest rate of teen births in Arkansas, with 43.2 per 1,000. 

Advertisement

This disparity can be traced partly to inequitable health care access for the Black population, according to the report. While Black teens are more likely to use condoms than white teens, they are less likely to use more effective forms of birth control that require a prescription or medical procedure.

Compared to national levels, the Asian/Pacific Islander population has the highest discrepancy with national rates. The teen pregnancy rate for Asian/Pacific Islanders in Arkansas is 8.5 times higher than the national average, at 31.5 per 1,000, compared to 3.7 nationwide.

Advertisement

White teens in Arkansas have a birth rate that is more than double the national average, at 25.3 per 1,000 versus the national 11.4 rate.

Furthermore, infants born to women under age 20 are at a higher risk of dying, according to the report. Arkansas is currently third highest in the country for infant mortality, behind Louisiana and Mississippi.