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A Close Look at Preventing Teen Pregnancy among Latinas

The month of May was National Teen Pregnancy Month! Let's take a closer look at teen pregnancy among Latinas and learn how understanding and embracing commonly held traditional cultural values can help us address the high rate of Latina teen pregnancies.

An Eye on the Figures
In the past several decades, there has been a decline in the rate of teen pregnancy in the United States. Between 1990 and 2005, the rate of teen pregnancy in North Carolina decreased by 31%, mirroring a 34% decline in the country as a whole. In North Carolina, 2006 figures show that our state's silhouette  of a pregnant girlteen pregnancy rate has reached a plateau for a fourth year in a row after an impressive 13 year decline. About 63 of every 1,000 teenagers between 15-19 years of age in North Carolina became pregnant in 2006. This is down from a rate of 95 out of every 1000 teenagers in 2000.

Unfortunately, there are marked differences in the rate of the decline among ethnic groups, both in the nation and in our state. Although declining, the teen pregnancy rate among Latinas is still quite high - and is currently twice the national average. In the 1990's, teen pregnancy rates decreased by 29 percent for African American and White teenagers and by just 19 percent for Latinas. This is significant because Latinos are the fastest growing ethnic minority in the country and predictions reveal that by 2025, one quarter of all teenagers in the United States will be Latino.

Clearly, teen pregnancies in general, and teen pregnancies among Latinas, are a societal concern. From years of research, we know that teen mothers are less likely to complete high school, more likely to be single parents and more likely to live in poverty than other teens. They are also at greater risk of delivering a low birthweight baby.

Spotlight on Culture

One way researchers have explained the relatively high rate of Latina teen pregnancies is by highlighting cultural differences and suggesting that current educational programs aimed at Latinos fail to connect culturally. While barriers such as language, financial limitations and transportation are often identified as factors affecting rates of teen pregnancy (and health service utilization specifically), researchers also emphasize the need to acknowledge the role of cultural barriers if we truly hope to lower the rate of teen pregnancies among Latinas.Latino CoupleLet's take a look at three commonly held cultural beliefs that may affect rates of teen pregnancy among Latinas.

Marianismo/Machismo (Gender roles): In the Latino culture, young women and men often receive very different messages about acceptable gender roles. Whereas messages about chastity, demureness, and sexual naïveté may be emphasized for teenage girls, teenage boys receive messages about virility and conquest. Discussing sexuality, pregnancy and protection against sexually transmitted infections with one's partner may be perceived as a threat by teenage boys, and may reflect poorly on the girl. Therefore, the conversation is rarely initiated. Moreover, discussing sexuality and sexual practices with a physician or other healthcare provider can also be quite intimidating for all teenagers, and is not in line with traditional Latino values of modesty and chastity for girls and young women.

Familismo (Family-centeredness): For many Latinos, the family is the basic unit of social structure. Having babies is, of course, the primary means by which the family grows and is connected to other families. In this social context, having a baby - even at a young age - is often not subject to negative social stigma. Pregnancy prevention messages may also be misunderstood as "anti-family" by some Latino teenagers, and reconciling traditional values with health or education campaign messages becomes confusing. Fortunately, well-crafted teen pregnancy prevention messages aimed at Latinos can employ the strong cultural value placed on the family to their advantage. Programs with messages aimed at linking respect for family with planning for a family (when one is ready) can be effective.

Respeto (Respect): The traditional Latino value of respect - for one's self, family, or even partner, is a highly regarded value. It is quite easy to envision how such a value might be sued in culturally specific messages to reduce the teen pregnancy rate among Latinas.


Hamilton, Martin, Ventura. Births: Preliminary data for 2006. National Vital Statistics Reports, Vol, 56, No. 7. Hyattsville MD. National Center for Health Statistics. 2007.

Martin, J.S., Hamilton, B.E., et al. National Campaign Analysis 2002.
Vitalstats. National Center for Health Statistics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.



Latinos At-A-Glance

In the U.S.:

  • Latinas have had the highest teen birth rate of any ethnic minority since 1995.
  • About half of Latina teens become pregnant at least once before age 20 - twice the national average.

In North Carolina (2006):

  • Pregnancy rate for all teens, 15-19 years old: 63.1 per 1,000
  • Pregnancy rate for Latina teens: 173.1 per 1,000
  • Number of pregnant teens, 15-19 years old: 19,192
  • Number of pregnant girls (10-14 years old): 405

Source: Opens in new window North Carolina State Center for Health Statistics, Vital Stats, Reported Pregnancies  (2006)

3 Useful Spanish Health Phrases

  1. How old would you like to be when you have your first baby?
    Talking with teens: ¿Qué edad quieres tener cuando tengas a tú primer bebé?
    Talking with adults: ¿ Qué edad quiere tener cuando tenga a su primer bebé?

  2. What are you and your partner doing to prevent pregnancy?
    With teens: ¿Qué están haciendo tú y tu pareja para que no quedes embarazada ahora?
    With adults: ¿Qué están haciendo Ud. y su pareja para que no quede embarazada ahora?

  3. Would you like to learn more about preventing pregnancy?
    With teens: ¿Quieres aprender más sobre cómo prevenir un embarazo?
    With adults: ¿Quiere aprender más sobre cómo prevenir un embarazo?

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