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State abstinence education programs and teen birth rates in the US


Title V, Section 510 of the Social Security Act, passed in 1996 and implemented in 1998, appropriates funding to states for the purpose of educating minors on the benefits of abstinence before marriage. Despite considerable research on the impact of abstinence education on teen fertility outcomes, high quality population-level studies on state abstinence education using panel data are absent. This paper uses state-level data to analyze the impact of abstinence education on the birth rates for teens 15–17 years by evaluating the Title V, Section 510 State Abstinence Education (SAE) program. For an average state, increasing spending by $50,000/year on SAE can help avoid approximately four births to teenagers, resulting in net savings of $15,652 to the public for each birth avoided.

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Fig. 1


  1. Monetary values are in 2004$.

  2. See Advocates for Youth website Accessed 14 December 2010.

  3. Monies are distributed between states according to the following process: Grants are awarded to states based on a statutory formula which is partly determined by the proportion of low-income children in a state to the total number of low-income children in all states according to the latest census data. The state is required to match 75% of Title V funds. See the ACF website Accessed 3 March 2009.

  4. Massachusetts is the only state that utilizes all of its funding in one block.

  5. An example of altering the incentives to childbearing is the Family Cap welfare reform policy in the mid-1990s, which ended the practice of providing families on welfare with cash benefits upon the birth of a new child (Kearney 2008 ).

  6. While this paper focuses on the first category, the youth development program—a relatively expensive initiative—incorporates a more holistic approach to addressing the issue of teen childbearing. See Kearney (2008) for a discussion of this issue.

  7. The programs are My Choice, My Future in Virginia; ReCapturing the Vision in Florida; Families United to Prevent Teen Pregnancy in Wisconsin; and Teens in Control in Mississippi.

  8. Later, I include California in the analysis but the results remain largely unaffected.

  9. The base year for the consumer price index series from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis is 1982–1984. In this analysis, I use 2005 as the base year. Accessed 23 February 2009.

  10. I use 15–17 year-olds as the treatment instead of 12–17 year-olds because data on the latter age group are not readily available over the length of the period under consideration. Further, the available births data for the excluded 12–14 year-olds account for a relatively small proportion of births for 12–17 year-olds.

  11. In addition, first-differencing eliminates different trends in age-specific birth rates that may exist.

  12. The SAE amount comprises the Title V, Section 510 allocations from the federal government plus the 75% matching contribution of each state.

  13. Increasing spending by one cent/capita means that for an average state with a population of 5 million, total spending will increase by $0.01 × 5,000,000 = $50,000. Given the average state population of 15–17 year-olds is 100,842; the decline in the number of births for an average state equals 4.03. That is, 100,842 × (0.04/1,000) = 4.03.

  14. This is an important policy issue. While the program seems to have an effect on reducing teen childbearing, there is no evidence of a significant impact on Blacks (or Hispanics), who are more likely to be susceptible to early teen childbearing.

  15. In 2002, birth rates show a remarkable dip in comparison to previous years; and this episode is more striking for some state-specific age groups relative to others.

  16. The tendency is for every state to access similar and constant funding levels for CRE. Thus, there is likely to be less variation in CREs across states.


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I thank Naci Mocan for many insights on this project, Carter Hill and the participants at the Louisiana State University Department of Economics weekly seminar presentations, Bob Patterson and Maureen Duran of Administration for Children and Families (ACF) and Patty Mc Grew for providing helpful comments and suggestions. I am grateful to the editor and two anonymous referees whose suggestions improved the paper substantially.

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Correspondence to Colin Cannonier.

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Cannonier, C. State abstinence education programs and teen birth rates in the US. Rev Econ Household 10, 53–75 (2012).

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  • Teen birth rates
  • State abstinence education program
  • Title V, Section 510

JEL Classification

  • J12
  • J13
  • I280