Federally Funded Sex Education Programs Linked to Decline in Teen Birth Rates, New Study Shows

Original news release written by James Devitt in NYU News



The implementation of federally funded sex education programs over a decade ago was followed by a decline in teen births in counties where these programs were implemented. The research, which encompasses a 20-year period, offers a long-term assessment of the impact of comprehensive sex education in reducing teen birth rates.


“Sex education in the United States has been hotly debated among researchers, policy makers, and the public,” says Nicholas Mark, a PhD candidate in New York University’s Department of Sociology and the lead author of the paper, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). “Our analysis provides evidence that funding for more comprehensive sex education led to an overall reduction in the teen birth rate at the county level of more than 3%.”


To study the impact of sex education programs, the researchers focused on the federal Teen Pregnancy Prevention program (TPP), which was initiated in 2010 and awards funding at the county level. The vast majority of these programs provide more comprehensive information on sex, contraception, and reproductive health than do abstinence-only programs. Local organizations receiving TPP funding for their programs targeted different groups of at-risk youth. The PNAS research examined which counties received TPP funding and subsequent birth rates, which Mark and Wu studied by analyzing birth certificates, capturing the mother’s age and county of residence. Encompassing the timing of program implementation and later birth rates allowed the researchers to conduct a “quasi experiment”—one that could potentially illuminate a cause-and-effect relationship, but without a random sample that is typical of traditional experimental research.


More specifically, researchers looked at teenage birth rates in 55 U.S. counties in the years leading up to their receiving TPP funding (1996-2009) and during the years they did receive this support (2010-2016). They then compared teen birth rates in the 55 funded counties to teen birth rates in more than 2,800 unfunded counties in the years before and after TPP funding. Overall in these counties, teen birth rates dropped by 1.5 percent in the first year of TPP funding, but fell by approximately 7% in the fifth year of funding for an average reduction of over 3% during the studied period. Researchers importantly conclude, their work captures the timing and receipt of federal funding for more comprehensive sex education in assessing its impact on teen births.


To read the full news release, CLICK HERE

To read the full scientific article, CLICK HERE