Why do we have the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Western Europe?
It is arguable that international comparison and lessons learned are of limited value when addressing teenage pregnancy and young parenthood in the UK. There are many varied and complex factors which affect the rates in other countries such as:
•The rate of abortion amongst teenage mothers
•The age of leaving education
•The influence of church and faith groups
•The level of wealth and availability of employment
•Cultural attitudes towards teenage mother and young fathers
•Cultural attitudes towards contraception including its availability
•The effectiveness of sex education.
The large variations that occur in teenage conception rates across Western Europe place a constraint on the effectiveness of international comparison. Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands have lower teenage conception rates than the UK. This can be attributed to a more open attitude to sexuality, widespread availability of information and greater access to contraception. Northern European countries have a stronger track record in the provision of sex education while Southern European countries have a less formal approach. In addition, the rate of abortion is a key factor in determining the number of teenage mothers relative to other countries across Western Europe.
Approximately 40% of conceptions to teenagers in the UK are terminated compared with 70% in Sweden. In Sweden, parental leave benefit is based on income earned immediately prior to child birth and this is an incentive to delay parenthood. In contrast, the lack of a similar incentive in the UK may contribute to higher rates of teenage pregnancy; particularly in the 17-19 age group.
Evidence from Norway and the USA has suggested a reduction in the level of teenage pregnancies after raising the school leaving age. The effects of extending the school leaving age are particularly pertinent to England and Wales as the Government has recently risen the minimum age for leaving education or training to 18. Further, research by the National Bureau of Economic Research in the US has identified that starting school earlier can have a significant effect on teenage pregnancy among girls. It is estimated that a three month increase in school starting age reduces the probability of teenage pregnancy by approximately 0.5 percentage points.
Why do young girls become teenage parents?
Contrary to popular opinion, teenage mothers are bright young people with loads of potential but their issues are complex. Most teenage mothers suffer from low self-esteem and low sense of achievement. Statistically young people leaving the Care System are more likely to become teenage parents, suggesting that they are trying to recreate the family that they have lost.
Often, young mothers are looking for someone to love and someone to love them unconditionally. The idea that teenage mothers ‘do it deliberately to get a house’ must be seen in the context of poverty, distancing from their families and disengagement from education; how they feel about their future prospects and the options available to them.
Young people from the upper socio-economic classes with a high sense of achievement, rarely become teenage parents.
Studies have highlighted a link between early parenthood and domestic violence. US research suggests that 63% of teenage mothers have been victims of physical or sexual abuse. We live in a highly sexualised society which has an impact on the way that young people behave in relationships. It is well known that a high percentage of boys receive sex education from pornography on the internet and other uncontrollable sources. A lack of good quality sex education in schools can lead to the spread of misinformation in this way and the normalisation of risky sexual behavior.
Teenage pregnancy rates have reduced over the last 20 years although the rates remain stubbornly high in some areas of England and Wales. It has been suggested that there are a number of factors for the reduction in teenage conception.
Are teenage parents, bad parents?
In our experience at Straight Talking, teenage parents are no better or worse than older parents at parenting. They almost always face discrimination as a result of public perception that they are bad parents and this can make the difficult job of coping as a single parent, even more challenging.
Can Straight Talking’s work reduce the rates of teenage pregnancy?
Our evaluations over the years show that we have made a real difference to young people’s perception of early parenthood. However, we highly recommend that it is delivered in conjunction with;
•high quality Relationships & Sex Education
•good access to high quality Sexual Health advice
•appropriate, youth friendly access to contraceptive services
Straight Talking cannot be the whole answer to preventing teenage pregnancy and early parenthood for all young people but is a vital intervention in the work to reduce the rates and reducing poverty.