By Jeanna Bryner
updated 7:11 p.m. ET, Wed., Sept . 16, 2009
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.
They found a strong correlation between statewide conservative religiousness and statewide teen birth rate even when they accounted for income and abortion rates.
For instance, the results showed more abortions among teenagers in the less religious states, which would skew the findings since fewer teens in these states would have births. But even after accounting for the abortions, the study team still found a state's level of religiosity could predict their teen birth rate. The higher the religiosity, the higher was the teen birth rate on average.
There is also a chart showing results for each state.