Abstinence-Only Education Fails Again September 17, 2009

Abstinence-Only Education Fails Again

The Fark headline for this story reads: “Oh God, Oh God, Oh God” 🙂

A new study published in the journal Reproductive Health shows that there is a correlation between a state’s religiosity and the teenage birth rate.

Except Utah. It’s the exception. (Nicely done, Mormons.)

(And “new” study? Haven’t we heard this one before? Next thing you know, we’ll find out fire is hot.)

Anyway, the bigger question is whether there is causation. Does religion play a role in the increase in teen pregnancies? The study doesn’t say for sure.

But that isn’t stopping researchers from connecting the dots:

… study researcher Joseph Strayhorn of Drexel University College of Medicine and University of Pittsburgh offers a speculation of the most probable explanation: “We conjecture that religious communities in the U.S. are more successful in discouraging the use of contraception among their teenagers than they are in discouraging sexual intercourse itself.”

“It is possible that an anti-contraception attitude could be caused by religious cultures and that could exert its effect mainly on the non-religious individuals in the culture,” Strayhorn told LiveScience. But, he added, “We don’t know.”

Here’s a glimpse at the states, sorted by highest teen pregnancy rate:

Picture 1

The rest of the chart can be found here.

I must say I’m highly disappointed that there’s no mention of Saddlebacking in the article.

So why does this happen?

And how will religious folks try to spin this information?

Advertisinglies rebuts one potential response from conservatives:

… I can hear the religious nuts now claiming that this study is skewed because kids in less religious states could be getting pregnant just as much if not MORE than religious states; they’re just running around having abortion parties to dump their irresponsibly begotten babies so they can go out and have more heathenish orgies. Well, no. Thankfully, the study accounted for abortions and while abortions were higher in less religious states, accounting for those did nothing to change the outcome of the study.

(Thanks to Benjamin for the link!)

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • ColinSFX

    It’s interesting that southwestern states all seem to buck the correlation – Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada are all higher in their birth rate than their religious ranking would indicate (judging by the rest of the chart).

    As tasty a morsel as this chart looks, I’d be interested to see a handful of other factors lined up on it before I bite. Not least of which includes where abstinence-only is actually legislated, rather than just an assumed defacto of religiosity. How many counties fall under a certain earnings-per-capita threshold is another.

  • TXatheist

    Texas fell to number three…well, it must be all the work I’ve done. 🙂 I am a little surprised by NM because the state went to Obama.

  • Sackbut

    The study is interesting and all, but I can’t help but note that the correlation is between religiosity and pregnancy, not religiosity and reduced use of birth control. The latter is posed as conjecture by the researchers. It is a reasonable conjecture, but it is still conjecture, and it is unreasonable to characterize the results of the study as correlating pregnancy to abstinence-only sex education.

  • Jeff Flowers

    Abstinence-only sex education is a ridicules concept. What’s next? A driver’s education class that teaches you to stay away from cars?

  • Erp

    Did they check whether poverty had any influence?

    I note that on the other end of the chart New Hampshire and Vermont are both the least religious and have the lowest teen birth rate.

  • Infinite Monkey

    As a native Arkansan, I’d like to point out that we do love Mississippi. If it wasn’t for them, we’d be last in everything.

  • theBlakKat

    Let’s try that correlation again against attributes such as rural-‘ness’, geography, ethnicity, economics, contraception use, and perspective on contraception use. Right off the bat, I don’t see that much will change with any of these factors.

  • Tyler in SoCal

    Why did I move from New Hampshire!?

    California isnt too bad….and the beaches are nice.

  • Siamang

    The interesting thing BlakKat, is that those things go hand-in-hand in the US.

    Religiosity, poverty, violence, religious fundamentalism, lack of education, rural, conservative, Fox-news watcher, teen pregnancy, divorce, drug-abuse, xenophobia, homophobia, domestic violence, school drop-out rate, gender disparity, racial disparity…

    Which is sad. You can’t point to one cause, but it seems multiple causes and multiple effects on a big feedback loop and the Republican intelligencia who profit from it have a finger permanently mashed down on the fast-forward button.

  • Siamang

    What’s next? A driver’s education class that teaches you to stay away from cars?

    Great line.

  • As for Utah. I was reading “The Secret Lives of Saints”. In the book the author mentioned that often teen pregnancies aren’t reported as teen pregnancies in Mormon communities because the girls are “married’. As a result they tend to fly under the radar a bit.

  • Siamang

    Also, young Mormons (called elders) are sent out of the state and the country on highly supervised missions.

  • Demetrius Of Pharos

    I was about to call shenanigans on the data from Utah, based on the fact that people seem to be more likely to get married young here, but Sarah beat me to it. So I will simply say that the study doesn’t say anything about married teens, which I’m betting would change the results a bit. (The religious states would still have more, I think, but there are probably other factors.)

  • cypressgreen

    Nothing fails like prayer.
    Except abstinance education.

  • Utah’s position surprises me, in a good way. We used to be way up on the list not that long ago.

  • Philbert

    The government publishes statistics on abortion. It should not be too hard to produce a ranking of states by total abortions + live births.

  • Erin

    From a nurse’s perspective, these statistics are not surprising- but from my day to day dealing with it, it obviously leaves out things that might happen between conception and birth.

  • naath

    I think there’s a problem with saying “fails” here. I don’t think that the advocates of abstinance-only education think this is a failure, because I don’t think that what they want is what we want (that is, for women to choose if and when they have children and a low rate of teen pregnancy). I think that what they want is for women to marry and have children at a young age, and if necessary they’ll go with the (traditional) practice of pushing girls into marrying the baby daddy when they get pregnant at a young age.

    So I don’t think it’s possible to change their minds by pointing at the teen-pregnancy stats. Unfortunately the problem is harder 🙁

  • Bryan Pesta

    Hi Hemant!

    I have a very similar article in press in the journal, Intelligence. We show that religiosity links to many negative outcomes.

    If interested, here’s a draft (pre type set):


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