The Centre for Analysis of Youth Transitions released a report this week which links teenage conception data to the education records of all girls attending state schools in England. It looks at associations between pregnancy and individual and social factors such as absenteeism and deprivation. As it’s a 53 page document we’ve put together a brief summary of the findings here.
This Department for Education funded report compares information on teenage pregnancy (number of conceptions, conceptions leading to maternity or abortion) to data from English schools (pupils who are eligible for free school meals, who are frequently absent, who have special educational needs etc). For those of us working in this area, the key findings are not all that surprising:
“Teenage conception and maternity rates are higher in deprived areas”
“Girls who attend higher performing schools are less likely to conceive, and more likely to have an abortion if they do conceive”
We know already that teenage pregnancy relates to particular social factors, and that young women in deprived areas are more likely to get pregnant, and when pregnant more likely to continue the pregnancy and become young parents. A 2004 study looking at national variation in teenage abortion and motherhood found that “abortion proportions and social deprivation are strongly correlated”, and that young women’s socio-economic backgrounds are a strong influence on their decision to continue or end a pregnancy. The researchers interviewed young people who had had abortions/given birth and their responses give a fascinating insight into the inevitability of particular pregnancy choices for young women:
“There was no question of me keeping it because I knew I was going to go to university...I didn’t want a baby...I’d had a good education and I had a career path to go down, it was all laid out for me.”
This latest piece of research found that eligibility for free school meals and being persistently absent from school were the factors most strongly associated with teenage pregnancy and the decision to continue with a pregnancy. Those who are eligible for free school meals are more than twice as likely to conceive as those who are not. This is important information for anyone working in sexual and reproductive health and education services, and clearly there is a need to think about making these services truly accessible to young people outside of school, through outreach and non-educational settings.
Although we know there are important individual and social factors to consider when planning work which aims to prevent unwanted pregnancies, one finding from the study bears highlighting:
“Teenage conceptions occur in all social groups, areas and types of school. Similarly, teenage conceptions occur in rich and poor areas and in schools with high and low levels of attainment: no characteristic provides complete “protection” from teenage conception”