Adolescent Birth Rate Falls to Record Low, Kids' Exposure to Secondhand Smoke Drops Infant Mortality Rate Falls to Former Level, But Birth Rate for Unmarried Women Rises

Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics

The federal government's yearly statistical report on the well-being of our Nation's children shows that the adolescent birth rate fell to the lowest level ever recorded. The infant mortality rate also declined to its former, lowest ever, level after having increased in the previous year. The proportion of children exposed to secondhand smoke declined, as did the proportion of high school seniors who reported smoking cigarettes daily in the last 30 days. Compared to the previous year's statistics, the average mathematics score increased for 4th and 8th graders and the average reading score for 4th graders also increased.

At the same time, the birth rate for unmarried women and the proportion of infants with low birth weight increased from the previous year.

These findings are described in America's Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2006, the U.S. government's annual monitoring report on the well-being of the Nation's children and youth.

"This year's America's Children report includes a number of favorable developments," said Duane Alexander, M.D., Director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health. "A decline in the adolescent birth rate, and drops in exposure to secondhand smoke and smoking among high school seniors are encouraging news."

He noted, also, that the infant mortality rate declined to its previous level after an increase the year before, despite an increase in the rate of low birth weight, a major risk factor for infant mortality.

"Advances in newborn care and technology have served to offset the increase in low birth weight," Dr. Alexander said.

America's Children in Brief was compiled by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics and presents a comprehensive look at critical areas of child well-being, including population and family characteristics, health, behavior and social environment, education, and economic security.

Population and Family Characteristics

The birth rate for unmarried women ages 15-44 rose, from 45 per every 1,000 unmarried women in 2003, to 46 per 1,000 in 2004. The birth rate for unmarried women in 2003 also represented an increase, from 44 in 2002 (Table POP7A). These increases follow a trend of modest declines from 1994 to 2002.

"The 2004 rate of 46 births per 1,000 unmarried women ages 15-44 matches the historic high reported a decade earlier, in 1994," the report stated. "Birth rates for unmarried teenagers have declined steadily since 1994, while rates for unmarried women age 20 and older were higher in 2003 than in 1994."

Wade F. Horn, Assistant Secretary for Children and Families in the Department of Health and Human Services, commented: "The decline in the adolescent birth rate is a welcome trend. However, given the research evidence indicating the benefits to children associated with being raised by their own married parents, the continued increase in births to unmarried parents and the number of children living in single parent households is a serious concern."

In 2004, 46 percent of children ages 0-17 were living in counties in which levels of one or more air pollutants rose above allowable levels, a decline from 65 percent in 1999 (Table POP9A). Fewer children ages 4-11 were exposed to secondhand smoke compared to the previous time frame for which statistics are available. Cotinine (measured in the blood) is a breakdown product of nicotine indicating recent exposure to cigarette smoke. From 1988-1994, 88 percent of children were found to have cotinine in their blood. This proportion declined to 59 percent in 2001-2004.

While the overall percentage of children with detectable levels of cotinine in their blood has declined since 1988, the report noted that levels differ among groups: "The most recent data show that 61 percent of White, non-Hispanic children had cotinine in their blood, compared with 81 percent of Black, non-Hispanic and 41 percent of Mexican American children," the report stated.


Reaching the lowest level ever recorded, the birth rate for adolescents ages 15-17 continued to decline, though at a slower pace than in previous years. In 2004, the adolescent birth rate was 22.1 per every 1,000 females, down from 22.4 in 2003.

"From 1991 through 2004, the decline was especially striking among Black, non-Hispanic teenagers; the rate for this group dropped by more than half, from 86 to 37 births per 1,000 females," the report said.

The 2003 infant mortality rate returned to the 2001 rate of 6.8 deaths for every 1,000 live births, after increasing to 7.0 in 2002. The infant mortality rate represents infant deaths before the first birthday.

For infants, the rate of low birth weight increased. Low birth weight infants are those who weigh less than 5 lbs, 8 ounces at birth and low birth weight is a risk factor for infant mortality. In 2004, the rate of low birth weight rose to 8.1 percent, up from 7.9 percent in 2003.

"Recent increases in multiple births, the result of increases in fertility therapy use and older age of childbearing, place infants at high risk for being born too small," the report stated. "These increases have strongly influenced recent upswings in low birth weight and very low birth weight rates; however, low birth weight rates have also been on the rise among infants in singleton deliveries."

The proportion of children ages 6-17 who are overweight did not change significantly, from 17 percent in 2001-2002, to 18 percent in 2003-2004. The proportion of overweight children has been trending upward over time. In 1976-1980, only 6 percent of children ages 6-17 were overweight. By 1988-1994, 11 percent were overweight, and by 1999-2000, 15 percent were overweight.

In 2003-2004, 25 percent of Black, non-Hispanic girls were overweight, compared with 16 percent of White, non-Hispanic girls and 17 percent of Mexican American girls.

Behavior and Social Environment

The proportion of 12th graders who reported smoking daily in the previous 30 days dropped from 16 percent in 2004 to 14 percent in 2005. The proportion of 8th graders and 10th graders who smoked did not change significantly from 2004 to 2005. The report describes a long-term decline in smoking among students at all grade levels. Between the mid 1990s and 2005, daily cigarette smoking declined from 10 percent to 4 percent among 8th graders, from 18 to 8 percent among 10th graders, and from 25 to 14 percent among 12th graders.

Among 8th graders, male and female students had similar rates of daily smoking (4 percent) in 2005. At 5 percent, White 8th graders were more likely to smoke daily than either Black 8 th graders (2 percent) or Hispanic 8th graders (3 percent).

The rate of youth ages 12-17 who were victims of serious violent crime dropped from 18 per 1,000 in 2003 to 11 per 1,000 in 2004. The report defined serious violent crime as homicide, rape, aggravated assault, and robbery. However, the rate in 2004 was not different from the rate in 2002. The report noted that the violent crime victimization rate in this age group declined from a peak of 44 victims per 1,000 youth in 1993.


The report stated that the average scores of 4th and 8th graders in mathematics have increased on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The NAEP gauges what children know and can do in core subjects. On a scale of 0 to 500, the average mathematics score of 4th graders increased from 235 in 2003 to 238 in 2005. For 8th graders, the average math score increased from 278 in 2003 to 279 in 2005. Math scores for 4th and 8th graders have been increasing since 1990, the report noted.

The average NAEP score of 4th graders in reading from 218 in 2003 to 219 in 2005, but declined for 8th graders from 263 in 2003 to 262 in 2005. The reading score for 12 th graders fell from the last year it had been reported, from 290 in 1998 to 287 in 2002.

Economic Security

Changes in the economic security indicators did not reach statistical significance from the previous years reported.

"In 2004, the number and percentage of children living in families with incomes below their poverty thresholds were 12.5 million and 17 percent, respectively, both unchanged from 2003," the report stated.

Poverty among children varied according to family structure. In 2004, children living in female-householder families with no husband present experienced a higher poverty rate (42 percent) than did children in married-couple families (9 percent), the report stated.

Poverty also varied by race and Hispanic origin. Black children had a poverty rate of 33 percent in 2004, Hispanic children had a poverty rate of 29 percent, and White, non-Hispanic children had a poverty rate of 10 percent.

The Forum's Web site at contains all data updates and detailed statistical information accompanying this year's America's Children in Brief report. As in previous years, not all statistics are collected on an annual basis and therefore, some data in the Brief may be unchanged from last year's report. Members of the public may access the report at While supplies last, single copies of the report are available from:

the Health Resources and Services
Administration Information Center
P.O. Box 2910, Merrifield, VA 22116
Toll Free Lines:
Fax: 703-821-2098


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