06/01/2009 at 01:00 AM EDT
Carly Broder of San Francisco was 17 when she gave birth to her son Isaiah, now 2. Like Bristol Palin, Broder graduated from high school. "I was lucky to find a special school for teen moms," says Broder, 19, who is raising her son as a single mother. By contrast, fewer than half of all girls who become mothers before turning 18 ever get their diplomas. (And fewer than 2 percent earn a college degree by age 30, according to a 2006 study.) Broder is now living with her own mom and attending community college. But she also needs $600 a month in government assistance and worries about making ends meet. "The majority of us," she says dryly, "aren't the governor's daughter."
Even with the unusual advantages of a well-off family, Bristol Palin is, in some respects, a perfect example of the new trend in teenage pregnancy. After years of decline—from 1990 to 2004 the teen pregnancy rate in the United States dropped 38 percent—the numbers have lately started to head up again. Between 2005 to 2007 the teen birthrate increased 5 percent. (In 2006 Alaska led the nation with a 19 percent jump.) The reasons for the increase? Bill Albert of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy points to several possible factors, including evidence that teens these days are less concerned about sexually transmitted diseases. Studies suggest that teens are having more sex and using less contraception, says Albert, who adds, "Success at reducing teen birthrates may have led to complacency."