The number of U.S. teens giving birth has declined substantially over the past two decades, but this country’s teen birth rate is still much higher than that of most other developed nations.

That’s the upshot of a report issued this week by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that analyzed data regarding births to teenage mothers, contraceptive use and access to adult guidance about sexual activity among male and female teenagers in from 1991 to 2009.

At first glance it looks like great news: the rate at which teenage girls ages 15 to 19 gave birth dropped from 61.8 births per 1,000 in 1991 to 39.1 births per 1,000 in 2009. That’s the lowest rate ever recorded (since records were first kept 70 years ago) and represents a 37-percent decrease. At the same time, the percentage of high school students who had ever had sexual intercourse dipped from 54 percent to 46 percent.

And the percentage of sexually active teens who reported not using any form of contraception the last time they had sex dropped too, from 16 percent to 12 percent.

Still, birth rates remain high among black teens (59 births per 1,000) and Hispanic teens (70.1 births per 1,000). Compare that to 25.6 births per 1,000 for white teens.

The report’s self-acknowledged shortcomings are notable: For one thing, only births to teen mothers are reflected here; the data don’t reveal how many teen pregnancies end with abortion. Also, the data don’t include births to teens younger than 15.

The report notes that about half of all teenagers reported they’d talked with a parent about how to say “no” to sex, and the same percentage said they’d discussed contraception with a parent. Only 44 percent of females and 27 percent of males said they’d talked about both subjects with a parent; 24 percent of females and 38 percent of males said they hadn’t talked about either with their folks.

Whatever you make of all those percentages, one particularly grim fact overshadows all the rest. The 410,000 births to teen mothers in 2009 (representing 4 percent of all teenage girls) places the United States in the teen-birth stratosphere, globally speaking. According to the report, “… the teen birth rate in the United States remains six to nine times higher than in developed countries with the lowest birth rates. Even in U.S. states with the lowest rates, the teen birth rate is nearly three to five times higher than in developed countries with the lowest birth rates, and in U.S. states with the highest rates, the teen birth rate is approximately 10 to 15 times higher than in other developed countries with the lowest birth rates.”

Do these numbers surprise you? Are they better, or worse, than you had imagined?