North Dakota’s secret to low teen pregnancy rates: oil

AP110727114495.jpg(A North Dakota man camp: not a great place for baby making. Photo by AP/Gregory Bull)

A new report by the Guttmacher Institute shows teen pregnancy rates in 2008 were highest in New Mexico, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas and Arizona. The lowest rates were in New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Minnesota and North Dakota.

Laura Lindberg, a researcher at the institute, cited increased contraception use as the main reason for an overall decline in teen pregnancies.

“By contrast, there has been less change in teens’ levels of sexual activity,” she said in this news release.

So what’s the story with North Dakota? “It’s not by having such great sex ed, contraception access, and abortion providers,” Lindberg told Slate blogger Amanda Hess.

Hess continues:

No — North Dakota has one Planned Parenthood in a 700,000 square-mile state. Seventy-five percent of North Dakotans live in counties with no abortion provider. State law mandates abstinence-only education in its schools. And just this month, North Dakota State University president Dean Bresciani attempted to freeze federal funding for two of his own professors to stop them from starting a comprehensive sex ed program for at-risk Fargo teens.

So the key then? This, like so many changes in the state I call home, can be traced back to the incredible oil boom in the western part of the state.

The explosion of fracking has created thousands of North Dakota jobs and imported single young men by the truckload to fill them. That’s helped the state perform better on two major indicators of teen pregnancy: Rates go down in places with low economic inequality and a high ratio of men to women. You might think there would be higher rates of teen pregnancy with more seed floating around, but research suggests that women are more likely to delay pregnancy when they perceive future opportunities to climb the social and economic ranks — to get an education, a job, and a committed partner who benefits from the same.

Hess cautions that while the influx of job-seeking males helps explain the low teen pregnancy rate, it’s not the only factor. One other big one: There are just not a lot of people in North Dakota.

The population of teen moms is so low — the state recorded 666 births to teen mothers in 2008 — that “you could invite them all to the governor’s mansion for lunch,” [Lindberg] says. Spread those pregnancies over 70,000 miles, and it’s “not enough to make it a part of the culture.”

— Nate Minor