The Sexual Activity and Birth Control Use of American Teenagers
NBER Working Paper No. 7601
This paper evaluates the evidence regarding teens' sexual activity and birth control use with an emphasis on the contribution of economic analysis. For non-economists, teen sexual activity is often considered spontaneous and irrational, and pregnancies are viewed as mistakes.' Alternatively an economic framework, which focuses on the costs and benefits of alternative actions and utilizes more sophisticated statistical methods, can be applied to these decisions' as well. After documenting recent trends, I review prior economic and non-economic research regarding the determinants of these activities. Economic models differ in that they predict unprotected sexual activity will decline if its costs, broadly-defined, increase. After presenting evidence documenting who engages in sexual activity and uses birth control, I report an analysis of state-level data over time that examines whether changes in costs are related to changes in these behaviors. The results support the notion that costs matter. The final section reviews the evidence regarding the impact of teen child-bearing on women's subsequent well-being to examine the magnitude of its cost.