Study: Religious Beliefs 'Strongly Predict' Teen Birth Rates

A new study is suggesting a "strong" link between the religiosity of a state's residents and the teen birth rate there.

Though only half of the states listed among the ten most conservatively religious also appear in the list of ten states with the highest teen birth rates, researchers behind the latest study say increased religiosity in residents of states in the U.S. strongly predicted a higher teen birth rate.

"With data aggregated at the state level, conservative religious beliefs strongly predict U.S. teen birth rates, in a relationship that does not appear to be the result of confounding by income or abortion rates," researchers reported in the summary for their report, "Religiosity and Teen Birth Rates," which was published Thursday in the Reproductive Health journal.

"One possible explanation for this relationship is that teens in more religious communities may be less likely to use contraception," the researchers added.

 For the study, Joseph Strayhorn of Drexel University College of Medicine and University of Pittsburgh compiled publicly accessible data on birth rates, conservative religious beliefs, income, and abortion rates in the U.S., aggregated at the state level. The religiosity information came from a sample of nearly 36,000 participants who were part of the U.S. Religious Landscapes Survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life conducted in 2007, while the teen birth and abortion statistics came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For religiosity, Strayhorn and report co-author Jillian C. Strayhorn averaged the percentage of respondents who agreed with conservative responses to eight statements, including: ''There is only one way to interpret the teachings of my religion," and ''Scripture should be taken literally, word for word."

"At the state level in the U.S., religiosity, as operationally defined by the eight questions of the Pew Survey, accurately predicts a high teen birth rate," the researchers wrote in their report.

"[T]he magnitude of the correlation between religiosity and teen birth rate astonished us," they added.

But the researchers cautioned against inferring from their results that "Religious teens get pregnant more often."

"It would be a statistical and logical error" to do so, they stated. "Such an inference would be an example of the ecological fallacy."

Instead, the researchers speculated that conservative religious communities in the U.S. are more successful in discouraging use of contraception among their teen community members than in discouraging sexual intercourse itself.

Notably, while researchers found a positive correlation between religiosity and teen birth rates, they also found that abortion rates correlated negatively with religiosity.

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