A Summary of the Findings from the
National Omnibus Survey Questions about Teen Pregnancy
Conducted for the Association of Reproductive
Health Professionals and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy by Princeton Survey Research Associates.
Released May 2, 1997
An Introductory Note from the National Campaign
This survey shows that most Americans believe that high
school-age teens should not be sexually active, and a vast majority believe
that it is societys responsibility to promote a strong abstinence message
to teens. At the same time, most Americans also believe that teens who
are sexually active should have access to contraception. As such, it is
evident that Americans have a complex view of the complicated problem of
teen pregnancy. These findings support the conclusion that Americans are
likely to find a variety of approaches to reducing teen pregnancy acceptable
-- not just one or two. In truth, there is enough work to be done on this
problem for many perspectives to be accommodated.
At the same time, however, many adults and teens are unclear
about the magnitude of the teen pregnancy problem in the United States;
few know that approximately 40% of teen girls become pregnant before they
turn 20.The National Campaign hopes to help educate the public about the
extent and consequences of teen pregnancy with its new report, Whatever
Happened to Childhood? The Problem of Teen Pregnancy in the United States
The Summary of the Survey Findings
This report summarizes the findings from an omnibus survey
of adults aged 18 or older and teenagers aged 12 to 17 about topics related
to teen pregnancy. This nationwide representative survey was conducted
by Princeton Survey Research Associates on behalf of the Association of
Reproductive Health Professionals and the National Campaign to Prevent
Teen Pregnancy. The goal of the survey was to ascertain the publics basic
perceptions and attitudes about sexual activity and pregnancy among teenagers
by asking four questions. The attached appendix contains the actual polling
questions, annotated with results based on total respondents, and the demographic
characteristics of each sample.
Many Americans say teens should not be sexually active,
even if they take precautions against STDs and pregnancy (see Appendix,
Many Americans (62%) say that high school-age teenagers should
not be sexually active, even if they take steps to prevent pregnancy and
sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Although adults (63%) are more likely
than teens aged 12 to 17 (54%) to say this, a clear majority of both groups
holds this view.
Younger teens and older adults are more likely to believe
teens should not have sex, even if they use contraception. More teens aged
12 to 14 (62%) than those aged 15 to 17 (47%) hold this view. Among adults,
a little under half (48%) of those aged 18 to 34 say they feel this way,
compared with 68% of those aged 35 to 54 and fully three-quarters of those
aged 55 or older.
A vast majority of the public believes that it is important
for society to encourage teenagers to practice abstinence (See
Appendix, Question 3)
Teens from higher income households are somewhat more likely
to believe teens should not engage in sex regardless of their use of contraception.
Close to six in ten (58%) teens living in households with incomes of $40,000
or more believe this, compared with half of those in moderate-income homes
(52%) or homes with incomes under $25,000 (49%).
More than nine out of ten Americans (95%) say it is important
for teens to be given a strong message from society that they should abstain
from sex until they are at least out of high school, including 78% who
say this is "very important." However, a smaller proportion of teens aged
12 to 17 (68%) than adults (80%) believe it is very important for society
to convey this message to youth.
Teen attitudes about a strong abstinence message differ by
gender and age. Three-quarters (76%) of girls, compared with six in ten
(60%) boys, say it is "very important" for society to encourage abstinence
among teens. Seventy-two percent of teens aged 12 to 14, compared with
64% of teens aged 15-17, agree.
Even though the majority of adults do not think teenagers
should be sexually active, most also say teens who are engaged in sexual
activity should have access to contraception (see
Appendix, Question 4).
Similarly, adults opinions about the importance of a strong
societal message promoting abstinence varies across gender and age, as
well as income. More women (86%) than men (72%) feel it is "very important"
for society to convey this message. Adults aged 35 or older (83%) are more
likely than younger adults (73%) to take this point of view. More adults
with moderate incomes ($25,000 to under $40,000), compared with those with
lower (73%) or higher (71%) incomes, express this point of view.
Six in ten adults (59%) believe that teenagers should not
be sexually active but, if they are, that they should have access to contraception.
Women and younger adults are more likely to express this
opinion about the interplay between the approval of teen sexual activity
and of access to contraception. Two-thirds of adults under age 55, compared
with four in ten aged 55 and older, say they think teens should be abstinent
but also think those who are sexually active should have access to birth
control. Sixty-three percent of women compared with 54% of men hold this
Still, one-fifth (22%) of adults hold that, without exception,
teenagers should be abstinent and should not have access to contraception.
Older adults are more likely to express this point of view; 37% of those
aged 55 or older, compared with 20% of middle-aged adults (aged 35-54)
and 12% of those under age 35. Views on this issue differ by income. For
example, twice as many adults with an income under $25,000 (26%) believe
that teens should be abstinent without exception compared with those who
earn over $50,000 (13%).
Most Americans have misperceptions about the number of
teenage girls in the United States who become pregnant before age 20
(see Appendix, Question 1). [Statistics show that approximately four in
ten girls are estimated to become pregnant before age 20.1]
Only 14% of adults surveyed say that it is acceptable for
teens to be sexually active as long as they have access to some form of
birth control. Young adults aged 18 to 34 and men of all ages are more
likely to express this opinion. Young adults (20%) are twice as likely
as adults aged 55 or older (10%) to believe that it is acceptable for teens
who have access to contraception to be sexually active. Similarly, 19%
of men say this compared with just 9% of women.
When asked about how many teenage girls get pregnant before
they turn 20 years old, only one-third (34%) of the public correctly identifies
the proportion to be around 40%. More adults (33%) underestimate
the number to be around 20% than overestimate it. In contrast, more teens
overestimate the proportion who become pregnant (38% say around
60% or higher), although one-quarter (25%) do underestimate it.
Teen girls (41%) are more likely than boys (30%) to estimate
accurately the number of pregnancies among their peers, whereas there is
no difference by gender among adults.
One-third (35%) of teenage boys compared with 15% of teen
girls believe that only around 20% of girls get pregnant before they become
20 years of age. Similarly, more adult men (41%) than adult women (25%)
underestimate this proportion.
The likelihood that adults underestimate the proportion of
teen girls who get pregnancy increases with the level of household income:
47% of adults with incomes of $40,000 or more, 33% of those who earn between
$25,000 to under $40,000, and 19% of those who earn less than $25,000.
One explanation for this difference could be that pregnancies occur more
often among teenagers from lower income households.
Younger adults -- those in or close to their teen years --
are less likely than older adults to underestimate the number of teenage
pregnancies. For example, 28% of those aged 18 to 34 compared with 40%
of those aged 45 to 54 (an age group likely to be parents of teenagers)
underestimate this number.
1. National Campaign to
Prevent Teen Pregnancy analysis of Henshaw, Stanley K., "U.S. Teenage Pregnancy
Statistics," The Alan Guttmacher Institute, May 1996; Forrest, Jacqueline
"Proportion of U.S. Women Ever Pregnant Before Age 20." The Alan Guttmacher
Institute, 1986 (unpublished). Note: This is an estimate based in
part on assumptions about the number of repeat pregnancies that occur among
teens which can occur either because of multiple abortions (including miscarriages)
or because of multiple births, or because of some combination of the two.
As new or better data become available, the Campaign intends to update
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