Teen-aged births in South Carolina cost taxpayers at least $166 million in 2010, a new analysis says, even as the birth rate among the state's teen-aged population has fallen by almost half in the last 20 years through increased education efforts.

While the high dollar figure represents "sticker shock" to some taxpayers, experts say the good news is that the state could have been much worse off if not for the dramatic turnaround in attitudes, messages and focus that helped bring numbers down.

"These public sector costs would have been higher had it not been for the substantial declines in teen childbearing," said the report's authors from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy on Tuesday.

"South Carolina has seen a 41 percent decline in the teen birth rate between 1991 and 2010. The impressive strides made have saved taxpayers an estimated $172 million in 2010 alone, compared to what they would have paid if rates had not fallen."

Between 1991 and 2010 there were 166,542 births to teen mothers in South Carolina, costing taxpayers a total of $4.5 billion over that period, the campaign said.

Most of the public sector financial burden is associated with what the group said are the negative consequences that are often experienced by the children of teen mothers, including during their childhood, adolescent and young adult years.

Those costs include public health care, such as Medicaid and food stamps, and increased participation in child welfare programs.

Among young adults, it also covers the increased rates of incarceration and the lost tax revenue due to decreased earnings and potential spending.

Still, South Carolina is considered among the top improving states in combating teen pregnancy. Earlier this year the S.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy reported South Carolina's teen-aged birth rate has fell by almost half in the last two decades, with officials linking the drop to a greater willingness to talk more openly about abstinence, contraceptives and education not seen in previous generations.

Forrest Alton, CEO of the S.C. campaign, also said Tuesday that the financial numbers further illustrate that all state residents have a stake in trying to curb the pregnancy rate, pointing out the high dollar amounts that can be saved by reducing teen-aged births.

Even with the statewide downturn, South Carolina has the 11th-highest teen birth rate in the country, with more than 5,500 teenagers giving birth each year, according to recent numbers.

Between 1991 and 2010 there have been 166,542 teen births in South Carolina, costing taxpayers a total of $4.5 billion over that period, the national campaign reported.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551