Poor education linked with teen pregnancies

BMJ 1997; 314 doi: (Published 22 February 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;314:535
  1. Jessica Westall, Clegg scholar
  1. BMJ

    Britain has the highest pregnancy rate among 15-19 year old women in western Europe, according to a report from the NHS Centre for Reviews and Dissemination at the University of York. Truancy, low academic achievement, and poor sex education are all factors implicated in this high rate.

    The rate of conceptions in the 16-19 year old age group has been decreasing, however, since 1990 and is currently 56.8 per 1000. Among girls aged under 16 years the rate has been steady over the past 20 years despite this group being a priority area in the government's Health of the Nation strategy. The target is a reduction in conceptions among girls under 16 years to 4.8 per 1000 by the year 2000-it currently stands at 8.3 per 1000.

    Better school based sex education is needed-a move that would not lead to an increase in sexual activity, the report says. It also calls for improved access to confidential contraceptive services for young people.

    The report coincides with an international survey showing that the number of teenage pregnancies is falling worldwide. However, 15 million babies are born to teenage mothers each year, 10% of which are unplanned. The international survey, by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit making organisation for reproductive health analysis in New York, found that women who had had a higher level of education were more likely to delay marriage and childbearing (see 3).

    Both reports link teenage pregnancy with a high level of poor social, economic, and health outcomes for both mother and child. The international survey found that the risk of death during childbirth is two to four times higher among mothers aged 17 years or younger than among mothers aged 20 or older.

    Dr Kathleen Kiernan, a senior research fellow at the London School of Economics, said: “Britain is unusual in having such a high teenage pregnancy rate. It is due to our education system: we give our teenagers the opportunity to leave school at 16 and get a low paid job. They take on adult roles earlier than our European counterparts.”


    International survey links high education to delayed childbearing


    • Reducing Unintended Teenage Pregnancies is available from the NHS Centre for Reviews and Dissemination, University of York (tel 01904 433648); Risks and Realities of Early Childbearing Worldwide is available from the Alan Guttmacher Institute, New York (tel 00 1 212 248-1111).

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