U.S. states whose residents have more conservative religious beliefs on average tend to have higher rates of teenagers giving birth, a new study suggests.
The relationship could be due to the fact that communities with such religious beliefs (a literal interpretation of the Bible, for instance) may frown upon contraception, researchers say. If that same culture isn’t successfully discouraging teen sex, the pregnancy and birth rates rise.
Mississippi topped the list for conservative religious beliefs and teen birth rates, according to the study results, which will be detailed in a forthcoming issue of the journal Reproductive Health.
However, the results don’t say anything about cause and effect, though study researcher Joseph Strayhorn of Drexel University College of Medicine and University of Pittsburgh offers a speculation of the most probable explanation: “We conjecture that religious communities in the U.S. are more successful in discouraging the use of contraception among their teenagers than they are in discouraging sexual intercourse itself.”
The study comes with other significant caveats, too:
The same link might not be found for other types of religious beliefs that are perhaps more liberal, researchers say. And while the study reveals information about states as a whole, it doesn’t shed light on whether an individual teen who is more religious will also be more likely to have a child.
“You can’t talk about individuals, because you don’t know what’s producing the [teen birth] rate,” said Amy Adamczyk, a sociologist at the City University of New York, who was not involved in the current study. “Are there just a couple of really precocious religious teenagers who are running around and getting pregnant and having all of these babies, but that’s not the norm?”
Strayhorn agrees and says the study aimed to look at communities (or states) as a whole.