Adolescent pregnancy and fertility in England and Wales

Lisa Arai and Ray Hall, Queen Mary, University of London

[Project number 30004]

The government considers (comparatively) high British adolescent pregnancy and fertility rates to be a problem, and has established a Teenage Pregnancy Unit to reduce them. In the policy document the Unit published in 1999, geographic variation in adolescent reproductive behaviour was described. This variation is often explained as evidence of poor access to sexual health services, or it may be explained by geographic concentration of poverty or the existence of ‘dysfunctional’ community norms governing childbearing. Whatever the nature of the explanation, the focus of government policy is on teenage reproductive behaviour in specific communities and neighbourhoods (though the overall aim is to reduce national rates). It is against this policy background that the present research is conducted.

There are three principal aims, and only one of these will be achieved using the LS (which will be used cross-sectionally). One of the aims of this research is to explore the characteristics and motivations of women in poor neighbourhoods and communities who become teenage mothers. This will be achieved using qualitative methods in specific locations in England and Wales. Another aim is to explore structural and other characteristics associated with early pregnancy and childbearing (again with an emphasis on behaviour in specific neighbourhoods and communities) using survey data. This will be achieved using the British Cohort Study (1986-2000) and will draw on American contextually-oriented studies of fertility behaviour in poor neighbourhoods.

The LS will be used to help achieve the third aim: demonstrate how the marital and socio-economic context within which adolescent fertility occurs has changed over a short period of time. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, high rates of adolescent fertility occurred within marriage (though often with conceptions outside marriage) but by the 1990s, this had changed with very few teenagers having their children within marriage (though often within a stable relationship). Early fertility is also associated with relative deprivation. Has this changed since the 1970s? Is early fertility associated with even greater poverty than it was in the recent past? Adolescent fertility is also geographically concentrated and is associated with residence in areas of high deprivation. Using geographic data, and deprivation indictors, I want to describe this geographical distribution of early fertility and document any changes in from the 1970s to the 1990s. The emphasis in the analysis is on changes over time in the context in which early childbearing occurs, considering, in particular, if the gradients associated with early fertility are steeper, more concentrated or change substantially over time.

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