Teenage Pregnancy

Despite the overall trend towards later childbearing, teenage pregnancy rates in England and Wales remain stubbornly high, with nearly 8,000 conceptions among girls under the age of 16 in 2001 (Social Trends 33,2003). Of these conceptions in 2001, almost 400 were to girls under the age of 14, under half of which led to maternities. There was also a variation across age in the number of legal abortions. In 2002,61 per cent of conceptions to 14-year-olds resulted in legal abortions, 6 per cent higher than the number in the 15-year-old group, which was the next highest (Social Trends 33, 2003).

To put this in context, throughout most of Western Europe teenage birth rates have fallen rapidly since the 1970s, while in the United Kingdom the rates have remained at the 1980s level or above. In 2001 the United Kingdom had the highest rate of live births to teenage girls in the European Union, with an average of 29 live births per 1000 girls aged 15-19. This was nearly 44 per cent higher than Portugal, the country with the next highest rate. Sweden and Italy had the lowest rates, at around 7 live births per 1000 girls aged 15-19 (Social Trends 33,2003).

The impact of unintended pregnancy for teenage girls is physical, psychological and social. Births to teenage mothers are particularly likely to take place outside marriage. In 2000 almost 9 in 10 live births to women aged under twenty in England and Wales occurred outside marriage. The report on teenage pregnancy by the Social Exclusion Unit in 1999 identified the impacts of teenage pregnancy as the following:

• Poor antenatal health, lower birthweight babies and higher infant mortality rates

• The health of teenage parents and their children is worse than average

• More likely to be living in poverty

• Disproportionately likely to suffer relationship breakdown

• Their daughters are more likely to become teenage mothers themselves.

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