Religion, Atheism and Teen Pregnancy
Religion and Teen Pregnancy
What is the relationship between religious belief and teen pregnancy? Does a more religious community have fewer teen pregnancies? Does it have fewer teen abortions? We will look at the data to find answers to these questions. We will consider the US nationally, the US states, and the world.
American religion and teen pregnancy over time
The United States has become less religious in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Christian identification, rates of prayer, rates of religious service attendance and rates of reading sacred texts have all fallen from the 1970s and 80s to the late 2000s. In 2007, among those who were asked how often they read sacred texts, the largest group (27%) were those claiming to never read them.
Meanwhile, the proportion of Americans claiming no religious identification rose notably during this period. In addition, the percentage of Americans who believe religion is old-fashioned and out-of-date, and not applicable to most of today's issues, is near its highest level ever, since the question was first asked in the late 1950s.
While America has become less religious, teen pregnancy has fallen, teen birthrates have fallen, and teen abortion rates have remained flat overall. To see this, I used Microsoft Excel to plot the data on national teen pregnancy, birthrate and abortion rate from the Guttmacher Institute. See the charts below.
US teen abortion and birthrate over time
US teen pregnancy over time
Religion and teen pregnancy: among the states
The data show a positive relationship between religious belief and teen pregnancy, among the American states. To see this relationship, I plotted state-level data for the importance of religion in people's daily lives according to Gallup (2009), against the teen pregnancy statistics (2005). See the chart below.
In addition, religion in daily life is negatively correlated with teen abortion, and strongly correlated with teen birth. This likely has much to do with more traditional and religious attitudes around abortion.
Teen pregnancy and religion, by state
Teen pregnancy and religion around the world
Similar tendencies are found among nations. In general, the less religious societies see less teen pregnancy. For instance, the United States is one of the most religious countries in the developed world, and in 1998 had the highest teen birthrate in the developed world (52.1 per 1000 women). The lowest teen birthrates were seen in South Korea, Japan, Switzerland and the Netherlands, all of which report that religion is not important in the daily lives of most people.
Religion, atheism and teen pregnancy: conclusions
There is a notable positive correlation between teenage pregnancy and religious belief in a number of studies. There are a number of possible reasons for this relationship. Both religion and teen pregnancy are correlated with poverty and lack of education.
Lack of education includes lack of adequate sex education. The areas of the US where teen pregnancy is highest tend to be those places where comprehensive sex education is discouraged, or abstinence is taught as the only form of sex education. In this case, religion motivates teen pregnancy as young people who do end up having sex do not do it in a safe or responsible way.
Another way that religion causes teen pregnancy is in traditional attitudes toward gender, family and marriage. More religious communities may place greater emphasis on a woman's role as a mother and wife, and therefore undervalue female education and work. A teenage woman, or especially a woman in her late teens as she finishes secondary education, is more likely to opt for having children in that environment, rather than continue her education or enter the workforce.