What are the factors that lead to high rate of teenage pregnancy in England

Published: 26th February 2010
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Teenage pregnancy refers to a situation in which under age girls usually between the ages of thirteen and seventeen become pregnant. In different parts of the world, the term may vary because definitions of the age of consent or social economic conditions may determine when women are regarded as having reached legal adulthood. For purposes of this paper, special attention shall be given to England.

Factors that lead to high rate of teenage pregnancy in England

England has recorded the highest pregnancy rate in Western Europe and this has attracted a lot of government attention to the issue. Policy strategies have indicated that some of the factors causing teenage pregnancy include the lack of opportunity, deprivation, reception of mixed sexual messages and lack of knowledge about contraception. While all the latter factors may be instrumental in determining teenage pregnancy in England, some factors are more consequential than others. (Cunnington, 2001)

Most teenage pregnancies are usually unplanned. In England, a number of teenagers who had ever engaged in sex were asked why they decided to do so claimed that they were pressured into the act. Consequently, one can assert that Peer pressure is an important factor in determining why some people may choose to have sex and this may eventually lead to early pregnancy.

The issue of contraception has been the subject of debate especially in the English context. The most obvious assumption may be that teenagers have very little information about conventional methods of preventing pregnancy and this may make them particularly susceptible to early contraception. In the United Kingdom, it was found that most women in the teenage bracket were more likely than other women of other age groups to avoid the use of contraceptives. Consequently, the lack of this alternative is definitely something that ought to be considered when trying to understand why teenage pregnancies in England have still been higher than most other countries in western Europe. It has also been shown that fifty percent of all unintended pregnancies among women of all ages are due to lack of contraception. A large share of the remaining fifty percent is due to poor use of the contraceptives or the lack of consistency in using them. (Fraser, 2004)

Studies done on contraception in England have found that the rate of contraception use among teenagers is more or less equal to the rate of use among other age groups. Consequently, it can be asserted that these increased pregnancy rates could have been caused by higher failure rates among this group than in other groups altogether. Additionally, the situation may be further be compounded by the tendency of teenagers to use shorter term methods rather than long term ones. It has been shown that the use of the following methods may reduce the occurrence of unintended pregnancies

• Dipo Provera

• Injectable contraceptive

• Subcutaneous implants

• Intrauterine devices

The utilization of such methods is more effective because it requires less user interaction and can therefore be very effective at solving the problem. The reason why most English teenagers have refrained from such methods is that they may feel shy when approaching health care experts. Additionally, some of them may perceive the use of these long term methods as an intentional way of engaging in sex yet most of the time their actions are unplanned. The government alongside other health organizations has not realized this issue and has therefore failed to address it.

It has also been shown that teenage pregnancy rates in England may be increasing because of failure to address intergenerational relationships. A number of teenagers have engaged in relations with persons who are much older than they are. Statistics have shown that older men are twice as likely to impregnate teenage girls compared to those girls who have relationships with their age mates. (Oakley, 2002) This may largely be because a huge percentage of girls who have early sex do so with men outside their age bracket. Since this issue has not been tackled properly, then pregnancy rates will continue to be high.

Sexual abuse is also another important predictor of early pregnancies and has led to these high rates. Research conducted in the year 2002 revealed that about sixty percent of teenagers who had engaged in sexual behavior had done so because of coercion by a male. However, a much smaller percentage of pregnant teenagers attributed their respective situation to a direct rape. The numbers vary with different studies but most of the percentages are below ten percent. (Department of Health, 2005)While the latter figures may seem much lower, they still represent real cases and when translated into real figures, then one can see that such numbers cannot be ignored. However, minimal action has been directed towards the latter category of girls largely because it is often assumed that such situations are inevitable and they are not decided by choice.

In close relation to the latter matter is that of early childhood abuses. There are certain psychological factors that are often linked to the occurrence of teenage pregnancies. Numerous studies have been conducted among pregnant teenagers in relation to the lifestyle that they had lived in the past. These studies revealed that over forty percent of teenagers who had given birth before the age of eighteen in England had been molested at some point in their childhood. An equally high number of teenage fathers who had been interviewed agreed to the fact that they had coerced or even raped the girls that they had sex with. These numbers show that sexual abuse has a large role to play in the process of understanding teenage pregnancies. (Fraser, 2004)

Dating violence is another important contributor to the high cases of pregnancy in England. It has been shown that large shares of adolescent women are usually in abusive relationships when they conceive. A study conducted in the entire region of the United Kingdom found that about seventy percent of all pregnant teenagers have ever experienced abusive relationships. While the latter studies may encompass other parts of the region such as Wales and Scotland, one cannot ignore the fact that England is one of the largest contributors in the region and regional statistics reflect what could actually be going on within this country. Usually, domestic abuse is a contributory factor in determining these pregnancies because such boyfriends regularly sabotage any birth control efforts made by teenage girls. In fact studies done in the same region have reflected the following

-62 % of 12-15 yrs olds- domestic violence

-56% of 16-18 yrs olds- domestic violence

-51% of all girls- sabotaged birth control

The latter study entailed only pregnant teenage girls amounting to three hundred and seventy nine.

In England, it has been shown that approximately fifty percent of all teenage pregnancies occur among some of the lowest social economic groups within the country. Other statistics also show that only fourteen percent of pregnancies occur in relatively stable social economic groups. Consequently, poverty is an important contributor towards the occurrence of such an issue. (Arai, 2004b)

A number of reasons have been put forward to try and explain the relationship between poverty and teenage pregnancies. At surface level, it may be assumed that some teenagers may be interested in getting financial incentives offered by the government where such benefits may entail housing, welfare financial aid among others. However, studies done to confirm this have indicated that most teenage girls actually know very little about the incentives. Furthermore, those who claim to know end up being bitterly disappointed when they find out that what they had assumed was correct was actually a big mistake. One such article was put out in an English local daily in which the author asserted that some teenagers may get pregnant just so that they can collect food stamps, welfare or have their own places to stay by the time they reach eighteen years of age. While the latter report may seem like it makes some sense, the research was not scientifically done and one cannot rely fully on such reports. (Geronimus, 1999)

It should be noted that the UK government has engaged in numerous strategies to minimize teenage pregnancies within the region. First of all, the government has centered on sex education as an effective weapon to deal with these high cases. One of the assertions made by opponents is that exposing children to such sexual education may actually encourage them to engage in sexual activity earlier. However, success rates on teen pregnancies in other Western European nations such as Germany have indicated that early exposure to sex education is actually beneficial to a teenager. In most societies of the world, people tend to have sex by the age of twenty years old. Consequently, it would make more sense to inform these individuals about the importance of safeguarding against unplanned pregnancies rather than letting them do what they desire. In fact, some of the most conservative societies about sex education have reported high instances of teenage pregnancies because sexual matters are handled secretly and young people do not have a chance to protect themselves. (Sexual Exclusion Unit, 2003)

The UK Department of Health realized the latter fact and placed sex education as one of the priority policies. Despite acknowledging the latter fact, England's pregnancy rates are still not as successful as they ought to be. Part of the reason for this failure is due to the fact that the government has identified sex education as an important predictor of teenage pregnancy but it has not been able to concretize some of its action plans. First of all, sex education in most school institutions is still reflective of traditional ideas and concepts in which the basic "sexual mechanics" are addressed and other more relevant matters such as contraceptive use are not discussed. Consequently, the government ought to look for ways in which it can incorporate these ideas into current sex education. Overly, poor structural design of sexual education in most schools may be causing some of these problems. (East, 2006)

It has also been shown that availability of sex education centers alone cannot solve the problem of teenage pregnancies. In fact, in socially deprived areas, teenagers were less likely to approach those centers for assistance on such issues yet in less social deprived locations, teenagers were more pro-active despite the fact that there were already low levels of pregnancy in such areas. This goes to show that the problem does not merely lie in informing teenage girls about sex. Instead, the motivating factors behind engagement in early sex have not been addressed. The government has not aimed at tackling any of the following issues

• Poor emotional health

• Low educational attainment

• Disengagement away from learning

• Low aspirations

• Los self esteem and many more (Arai, 2003a)

If the government was to handle this matter from its root causes, then teenage pregnancy rates would not remain as high as they are currently. A number of political figures in England have acknowledged these facts and one such example is the Member of parliament for Rhondda. He asserted that teenage pregnancy and deprivation are quite synonymous. In fact, he asserted that when one tries to map out some of the issues facing this particular group, it had been found that teenage pregnancies are consistent with some of the poorest communities in England. In the year 2005 alone, England recorded about thirty nine thousand, eight hundred and four conceptions amongst teenagers. The latter figure showed that in every one thousand teenagers, about forty two of them would be pregnant. (Mancloa et al, 2003)

Teenage pregnancy is associated with deprivation because most teenagers may be locked up in a cycle of underachievement. They lack role models around them that can encourage them to pursue their dreams and ambitions. Also, they are in a position where they may have had problems in their childhood and may have been exposed to poverty at early ages. These circumstances form fertile ground for the occurrence of teenage pregnancies and may eventually be translated to high prevalence rates.


Teenage pregnancy rates in England are still at the highest levels in Western Europe. This can be attributed to a number of factors such as child poverty, domestic and sexual abuse, lack of sex education, peer pressure, one's social economic background and the lack of information on contraception. The government has tried tackling some of the latter factors but failure in implementation could have led to disappointment in using the strategy. First of all, the government has concentrated too much on the issue of contraception without dealing with root causes of the matter. Secondly, it has failed to address other matters such as rape and abuse. Also, there sex education has been implemented poorly since traditional ideas in the matter still prevail.


Arai, L. (2003a): Low expectations, sexual attitudes and knowledge: Explaining teenage pregnancy and fertility in English communities; The Sociological Review, 51, 2, 199-217

Arai, L. (2004b): Teenage Pregnancy and Fertility in English Communities: Family, neighborhood and Peer Influences on Behavior, Queen Mary, University of London, Policy Press

East, P. (2006): How do Adolescent Pregnancy and Child bearing affect the child bearers? Family Planning Perspectives, 28, 4, 69

Mancloa, F., Johns, M., Gong, E. & West, E. (2003): Best Practices in Teen Pregnancy Prevention; Journal of extension, 41, 2, 36

Oakley, A. (2002): Doctor Knows best; Open University Press

Department of Health (2005): The Health of the Nation, London, The Stationery Office

Sexual Exclusion Unit (2003): Teenage Pregnancy, London, The Stationer Office

Fraser, A. (2004): Association of young maternal age with adverse reproductive outcome; Eng Med Journal, 333, 1113

Geronimus, A. (1999): What teen mothers know; Human Nature Journal, 7, 13, 45

Cunnington, A. (2001): What's so bad about teenage pregnancy?; Reproductive Health care and Family Planning, 27, 36

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UK teen pregnancy on January 29, 2013 said:
There are a lot of complex social issues at work in the UK, this tends to re-inforce a circle where girls are themselves brought up by teenage parents. Its a hard one to break.

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