Despite the prevalence of TV shows detailing the tawdry lifestyles and nonchalant hook-up scene of the supposedly typical American teenager, more young people are choosing to remain abstinent. According to a recent report from the National Survey of Family Growth, more than a quarter of young men and women between 15 and 24 years old report never having had sexual contact. Likewise, as shown in new charts on, more than half of all U.S. high school students report remaining abstinent, an 18 percent increase since the 1990s.

The increase in purity’s popularity may be credited in part to strong families. Teens from intact, married families are less likely to be sexually active and also less likely to abuse drugs and/or alcohol, exhibit poor social behaviors, or participate in violent crimes. Consistent parental involvement, especially from fathers, is also related to decreased likelihood of teen pregnancy.

These and other social benefits of intact families are at risk in future generations, however. While teen pregnancy rates are on the decline, the number of unwed births continues to increase. Of the four in 10 children born outside of marriage today, over 60 percent are to mothers in their 20s. With more women putting childbearing before marriage, a greater number of children will be left without the economic advantages or social guidance that tends to come from married families.

Policymakers can help avoid some of the consequences of unwed childbearing, however, by encouraging marriage and promoting policies that recognize the integral role of healthy, intact families on the social and economic well-being of children and adolescents.

Read more about abstinence trends among teens and emerging adults here.

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