Home » Health » Teen Pregnancy and the Bible Belt

Teen Pregnancy and the Bible Belt

Follow me on Twitter

What does the following two graphic images have to say about teenage pregnancy and religion? It might be a coincidence that the most conservative religious states have the most teenage pregnancies, but it might also be that both of these factors are related to some other factor.  The researchers who studied this data suggest that it may be conservative religious views on birth control (and abortion?) that are causing this result. What can be said for sure is teenage sexual activity doesn’t appear to be less prevalent in more religiously conservative areas of the country.



Religiosity and teen birth rate in the United States

Joseph M Strayhorn1,2* and Jillian C Strayhorn3




The children of teen mothers have been reported to have higher rates of several unfavorable mental health outcomes. Past research suggests several possible mechanisms for an association between religiosity and teen birth rate in communities.


The present study compiled publicly accessible data on birth rates, conservative religious beliefs, income, and abortion rates in the U.S., aggregated at the state level. Data on teen birth rates and abortion originated from the Center for Disease Control; on income, from the U.S. Bureau of the Census, and on religious beliefs, from the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey carried out by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. We computed correlations and partial correlations.


Increased religiosity in residents of states in the U.S. strongly predicted a higher teen birth rate, with r = 0.73 (p < 0.0005). Religiosity correlated negatively with median household income, with r = -0.66, and income correlated negatively with teen birth rate, with r = -0.63. But the correlation between religiosity and teen birth rate remained highly significant when income was controlled for via partial correlation: the partial correlation between religiosity and teen birth rate, controlling for income, was 0.53 (p < 0.0005). Abortion rate correlated negatively with religiosity, with r = -0.45, p = 0.002. However, the partial correlation between teen birth rate and religiosity remained high and significant when controlling for abortion rate (partial correlation = 0.68, p < 0.0005) and when controlling for both abortion rate and income (partial correlation = 0.54, p = 0.001).


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



  1. TamrahJo says:

    Quite a few years ago, I worked with a man who had done a study while pursuing his master’s degree on the effects of home/cultural standards in regards to risky sexual behaviors.

    His study was conducted via interviews/questionnaires to college students. His findings were:

    The more strict & sexually repressive the upbringing, the more likely an individual was to engage in risky sexual behaviors leading to STDs and unplanned pregnancy as well as an increased likelihood of the the individual becoming the victim of sexual aggression (incest, date-rape, rape).

    I was glad to have this information prior to my children and step-children reaching puberty – wasn’t always easy to have the discussions, but so glad I opened and kept open the communication channels. Made all the difference for them.

  2. […] En conséquence, cette zone des USA a les plus hauts taux de MST et grossesses adolescentes. (source, […]

  3. […] sexual repression have a tendency to warp young people in particular (just consider the fact that teen pregnancy rates are highest in the Bible Belt states, where sex is considered the ultimate sin and “abstinence only education” rules the […]

  4. Correlation is not causation. Further, aggregating data tends to exaggerate the problem of analysis. What are the backgrounds of the teens who had abortions? Education, location, etc. where are these variables in the study. One might as well have picked picked weather as a possible variable. At least they tried to control for income level but that in itself looks like a better indicator. One might ask about the use of birth control as a possible factor. It is readily available in these states? Fake science at best and I would not be surprised if the P values were cherry picked. It appears more like a publish or perish type of study.

    • DataHeart says:

      The issue here is not a question of causation. Understanding the root cause of teen pregnancy is a separate matter. But is is factual that there is a clear geographical variation in the incidents of teen pregnancy and that it roughly corresponds with the distribution of income levels. It also happens to correspond with measures of Christian religious intensity. Could it be that the impact of poverty influences both? It suggest fruitful areas for further, more detailed study.

      If you toss out this type of population analysis because it isn’t a science experiment, you may as well toss out all public health studies.

      • I have a couple of degrees in science and psychology. Methodology matters. A poorly planned study or experiment is of little good to advancing science or social science. I have done enough research as a student and independent researcher so I am biased against those studies whose where the research question is questionable. What was the hypothesis for the study? God knows there are thousands and thousands of psychological studies that are very questionable and whose results can easily be questioned. The fact that a good many public health studies cannot be duplicated is significant. The same goes for many other disciplines and the amount of “trash” foisted upon the public and the private venues is not insignificant. Yes, i am a harsh critic of muct that passes as “research”.

        The fact that one may try to research the effect of religious belief and practice on pregnancy and abortion says more about the researcher’s attitude towards religion than it says about the effect of religious belief on abortion.

        If we were to ask every teenage girl, from the age of 13 to 19 about how they became pregnant and why they had an abortion, and what was their religious belief and strength of belief we would run the problem of false data since self report is never very accurate.

        We would also have a problem with age groups. There is quite a difference between a group of girls age 13-15 that 18-19.

        When we look at regional or even state variations in religious belief what are we looking at? The number of church members? The variety or lack of variety in denominational differences? And have we looked at the problem that as individuals and families abandon the traditional religious belief systems and take up with equal fervor political belief systems, than how does that change the dynamic?

        We can talk about all those health studies that for decades said that eggs were bad for you, that butter was a killer, that vegetable oil was better than animal fat. The food pyramid was foisted upon us by “Health Researchers” with almost validity or reproducible results. Should we toss out all public health studies? Perhaps not all, but i think half may be a good start. Always look at the research question, the hypothesis, and the methodology. Then look at the multivariate analysis.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: