OAKLAND -- California's teen birthrate has plummeted 63 percent since 1990, the most dramatic drop of any state in the nation, according to an annual report released Tuesday.
The numbers are part of a nationwide trend that mark a dramatic turnabout over the past two decades. In 1990, six out of every 100 American girls ages 15-19 gave birth -- a number that was widely regarded as a public health issue demanding attention.
Experts credited the remarkable state turnaround to several factors, including policies aimed at preventing teen pregnancy, funding for adolescent health programs and increased access to contraceptives and abortions.
"I do think the policies and programs on teen pregnancy are working," said Kelly Hardy, senior director of health policy for Children Now, which released the annual data for California. "But a bigger focus on children and adolescent health in general would help keep us moving in the right direction on teen birth and many other issues."
In 1990, California's teen birthrate was 71 births per 1,000 females ages 15-19. By 2012, it had dropped to 26 per 1,000, according to the 2014 Kids Count national report.
Although California showed the most improvement of any state, it does not have the lowest teen birthrate in the country and actually ranks 20th in that category, down from 39th in 1990.
Teen birthrates vary according to geographic area, race and economic status, said Alison Chopel, director of the Public Health Institute's California Adolescent Health Collaborative, which provides advocacy and support to organizations serving youths. For example, Tulare County's teen birthrate in 2012 was the highest in the state, at 54 per 1,000 teens in the 15-19 age group, while Marin County registered the lowest rate -- with 10.1 births, Chopel said, using data compiled from the California Department of Public Health.
Alameda County had 19.4 births per 1,000 teens; Santa Clara, 18.9 births; Contra Costa, 17.2; San Mateo, 15.3; and San Francisco 12.4, she said.
"It has to do with a lot of social and economic factors, including parental communication and openness about sex," she said. "There's a small portion that has to do with teens delaying first intercourse, but the vast majority is contraceptive use and policies related to comprehensive, medically accurate and age-appropriate sexual education."
Some counties have "hot spots" with higher teen birthrates, which tend to be pockets of higher poverty, Chopel said. At 60 teen births per 1,000 teens, Oakland's Fruitvale neighborhood is very high compared with the rest of Alameda County. Similarly, some areas of West Contra Costa County and East Contra Costa had about 50 teen births per 1,000 teens.
Birthrates are also disproportionately higher among Latino and African-American teens, compared with their overall percentage of the population. Statewide, nearly 75 percent of teen births were to Latino mothers, although they represent less than 49 percent of female teens. About 7.6 percent of teen mothers were African-American, although they represent 6.2 percent of the female teen population, Chopel said.
Providing teens with more counseling, activities and support programs could help further reduce pregnancies while also helping them stay in school and out of trouble, she said.
"Youth need to have opportunities to contribute to the community, to be held to high expectations and to have a caring relationship with at least one adult," she said. "Youth that have these things -- through families or community organizations -- have much better outcomes."
Sampling of Bay Area counties
Area Births per 1,000 females ages 15 to 19*
Contra Costa: 17.2
San Francisco: 12.4
San Mateo: 15.3
Santa Clara: 18.9
*Note: There are wide variations within counties, including some low-income "hot spots" with much higher teen birthrates.
Source: California Department of Public Health
The complete Kids Count Data Book, which includes statistics in 16 categories, is available by visiting www.childrennow.org/2014_kcdb.