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Massachusetts Teen Birth Rate Now Lowest in State History

Jacqueline Godany

According to the 2010 Massachusetts Birth Report released by the state Department of Public Health earlier this week, the most recent data shows the rate of teenage women aged 15 to 19 having children dropped from 19.5 per 1,000 in 2009, to 17.1 per 1,000 in 2010.

The teen birth rate is now the lowest recorded in the commonwealth, and Massachusetts is now trailing only New Hampshire for the lowest teen birth rate in the country. The Granite State leads with a teen birth rate of 15.7 per 1,000. 

The rates of neighboring states include New York at 22.6, Connecticut at 18.9, and Vermont at 17.9. The national average including all 50 states and the District of Columbia is 34.3.

The decline is great news for the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy. Executive Director Patricia Quinn said, "We were just tremendously proud of the work young people and adults in Massachusetts have done to achieve the lowest teen birth rate on record."

Quinn attributes the low rate in Massachusetts to a combination of access to contraceptives and comprehensive sex education in schools, but also says that community involvement to motivate teens to seek opportunity and higher education after high school is a large component of preventing teen pregnancy.

"It's about adults and young people coming together to send that message to youth that they matter and that's not always understood," said Quinn.

Areas in Western Massachusetts also saw declines from 2009 to 2010. Holyoke’s significantly higher teen birth rate dropped from 96.9 to 83.6, while Springfield’s rate fell from 64.1 to 54.3.

The Berkshire United Way recently kicked off a county-wide teen pregnancy awareness campaign, which includes billboards directed to parents and teens, information on available prenatal healthcare options distributed to young people, and cooperation among community businesses, faith-based organizations, and others. President and CEO Kristine Hazzard said that the Pittsfield teen birth rate, while down from 52.3 to 34.4, is still double the statewide rate.

"Really our ultimate goal is to be inline with or below the state," said Hazzard. "We've got a lot of work to do."

The drop in Pittsfield’s rate already reaches the Berkshire United Way’s goal in seeking a 10point reduction in the teen pregnancy rate by 2016, but Hazzard said that she is waiting for more year-over-year data to be released before jumping to conclusions.

Hazzard said the birth report also highlights other areas of concern in Berkshire County.

"Pittsfield had the lowest number for adequate for prenatal care at about 70.5 percent out of the top 30 largest municipalities in Massachusetts," said Hazzard. "Corresponding with that we had the highest infant mortality rate which was 11.8."

Hazzard said the lack of adequate public transportation contributes to the lack of access to prenatal care in more rural areas of the county.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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