Our Opinion: Progress on teen births


The state's teenage birth rate has dropped to its lowest levels in 25 years according to statistics released on Monday, but while the rate has declined in Pittsfield it is the 11th highest in Massachusetts. This is an ongoing battle, one that social service agencies cannot win alone.

The state Department of Health report, based on statistics from 2010, found that the Massachusetts birth rate was 17.1 per 1,000 women aged between 15 and 19, which is the lowest rate in the history of the study. The state's teen birth rate is the second-lowest to New Hampshire of the 50 states and is half the national rate of 34.3 births per 1,000.

The Pittsfield birth rate dropped 34 percent between 2009 and 2010, from 52.3 births per 1,000 teenaged women to 34.4. For contrast, the highest rate in the state was Holyoke's -- an alarming 83.6 births per 1,000. Small urban communities tend to have the highest rates, and Pittsfield's improvement and lower numbers compared to Holyoke, Lawrence (second at 56.8) and Springfield (third at 54.3) suggests that a better economy in the city is reflected in the lower rate. Three other Berkshire communities were included in the study, as Adams and Great Barrington reported five teen births apiece in 2010 and North Adams experienced an encouraging drop to 17 births from 29 in 2009.

Studies indicate that teenage moms rarely complete their public school education or pursue higher education, putting them at a disadvantage economically. Because so many are single parents, they put stress on the social safety net. Even with a loving single teen mother, their children will face many economic and educational disadvantages. It's in a community's interest to reduce the number of teen births, and the success reported is encouraging.

As teenage sexual activities don't change much over the years, one demonstrated way of reducing teen pregnancies is through the use of contraception. It is simply pragmatic to provide teens with education about and access to contraception, as that will result in fewer unwanted children and fewer children and teen moms facing huge societal obstacles. There are many Berkshire agencies working successfully to lower the number of teen births, but for this decline to continue, teenagers must take responsibility for their own behavior. That means caution and precautions.


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