Differences in Teenage Pregnancy Rates Among Five Developed Countries: The Role of Sexual Activity and Contraceptive Use

January 18, 2002

This article is part of The Body PRO's archive. Because it contains information that may no longer be accurate, this article should only be considered a historical document.

A comparison study in the recent issue of Family Planning Perspectives examines teenage pregnancy rates in five developed countries and the roles of sexual activity and contraceptive use.

In-depth case studies were completed in each of the five countries. To maximize comparitability, the researchers worked with a team in each of the five study countries. A report from each country included a comparable set of tables on adolescent sexual behavior, contraceptive use, and birth, abortion, and pregnancy rates broken down by available socioeconomic measures.


Pregnancy and Childbearing

Teenage birth rate per 1,000 births

  • Sweden -- 7
  • France -- 9
  • Canada -- 20
  • Great Britain -- 31
  • United States -- 49

Percentage of women aged 20-24 who had a child before age 20

  • Sweden -- 4%
  • France -- 6%
  • Canada -- 11%
  • Great Britain -- 11%
  • United States -- 22%

Sexual Activity

Percentage of women aged 20-24 who had first intercourse before age 20

  • Sweden -- 86%
  • France -- 83%
  • Canada -- 75%
  • Great Britain -- 85%
  • United States -- 81%

Percentage of women who began having "sex" before age 15

  • Sweden -- 12%
  • France -- 7%
  • Canada -- 9%
  • Great Britain -- 4%
  • United States -- 14%

Percentage of sexually active women aged 18-19 who were sexually active in the past year and had 2 or more sexual partners in that time period (*measures not exactly comparable)

  • Sweden -- 43%
  • France -- 13%
  • Canada -- 24%
  • Great Britain* -- 30%
  • United States -- 49%

(*measures were for 16-19 year olds in Great Britain)

Contraceptive Use

Percentage of adolescent women who did not use any method of birth control at first intercourse*

  • Sweden -- 22%
  • France -- 11%
  • Great Britain -- 21%
  • United States -- 25%

(*statistics for Canada not available)

Percentage of adolescent women who did not use any method of birth control at most recent intercourse*

  • Sweden -- 7%
  • France -- 12%
  • Great Britain -- 4%
  • United States -- 20%

(*statistics for Canada not available)

The findings indicate that U.S. teens are not much different from those in other countries in terms of their level and timing of sexual activity. However, U.S. teens are more likely to have had more than one sexual partner in the past year. The authors suggest this may contribute to the relatively high levels of STDs evident in the United States.

The findings also suggest that the two main elements of pregnancy rate -- sexual activity and contraceptive use -- can prove helpful in explaining the pregnancy and STD rates in different countries. The authors point out, however, that sexual activity and contraceptive use are influenced by a large number of social, economic, political, and cultural factors.

For example, the authors suggest that one of the reasons for cross-country variations in contraceptive use is the difference in societal attitudes toward adolescent sexual activity. Contraceptive services and supplies are available free or at low cost for all teens in the four developed countries other than the United States, and efforts are made to facilitate their easy access to such services.

The authors recommend that increased attention to providing information and services could result in significant gains in reducing unplanned pregnancies and births among adolescents.

For more information: J.E. Darrouch. et al., "Differences in Teenage Pregnancy Rates among Five Developed Countries: The Roles of Sexual Activity and Contraceptive Use," Family Planning Perspectives, vol. 33, no. 6, pp. 244-50, 281.

This article was provided by Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. It is a part of the publication SHOP Talk: School Health Opportunities and Progress Bulletin.


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