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Teenage pregnancy rates fall to a record low - expert comment

23 March 2017

Teenage pregnancy rates have reached an all-time low, according to the latest figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). 

The estimated number of conceptions among girls aged under-18 fell to 21 per every 1000 in 2015, a decrease of 10% from 2014, and the lowest rate since comparable records began in 1969. Under-18 conception rates have now fallen by 55% since 1998.

In 2000, the government launched the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy, a 10-year programme of work combining co-ordination of efforts at local level, improved access to contraception and a related public education campaign.

The ONS figures suggest that the fall could be attributed to improved awareness, but also to an increased stigma towards teenage mothers and a shift in the aspiration of young women towards education.

How much impact have awareness campaigns had? And are there likely to be further reductions in the rate of teenage pregnancies?

Professor Kaye Wellings, Professor of Sexual & Reproductive Health Research at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, explains:

"England's success in bringing down under-18 conception rates is now being held as an example to other countries. The Teenage Pregnancy Strategy aimed to reduce under-18 conception rates by 50%, a target considered unrealistic at the time but has now been exceeded. The rates fell furthest in the areas in which most Strategy-related resources were invested by the government, even after taking account of the effect of region and deprivation.

"How much of the fall is attributable to government efforts, and how much of it would have happened anyway, are difficult questions to answer. There are many factors to be considered, from social trends such as the increase in the numbers of young people now in full-time education or training to age 17, to attitudinal shifts - this is the post-recession cohort of young people dubbed 'generation sensible', among whom it is no longer considered 'cool' to be pregnant early in life.

"Wider demographic shifts may also be playing a part. Major life events such as completing full-time education, entering employment, and settling with a partner and having a child are occurring at a later age. The report reinforces these shifts by finding an increase of 34% in conception rates among women aged 30 and over.

"The dramatic and continuing fall in under-18 pregnancy rates shows how much can be achieved when public health efforts and the social and economic influences are all operating in the same direction. It looks as if we're on course to see further falls in the under-18 pregnancy rate in the foreseeable future, but we need to be vigilant. Maintaining public health efforts is crucial if this success is to continue."