16, pregnant and middle class – What the papers don’t say


11:45 am - February 18th 2010

by Unity    


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Do the Tories really want to pick a fight over the issue of teenage pregnancies?

The reason I ask is not just because of the Tory’s latest statistical debacle; although it has to be said that their inability to get a decimal point in the right place hardly inspires confidence in a party that has aspirations of becoming the next government and taking over the running of the economy.

Last year, I put together a (popular) article that sifted some of the facts about teenage pregnancy from the media-driven fiction.

With an election in the offing, and the Tories already threatening to turn this issue into a political Aunt Sally, yet again, its seems to me to be about the right time to revisit this issue again and look at what the evidence has to say rather than what the Daily Mail would like you to believe.

Teenage pregnancy and inequality

What we have here is the 2007 conception rates for under-18s for individual local authorities in England plotted against each local authority’s average score on the DCLG’s 2007 Index of Multiple Deprivation.

As you can see there is a both a clear linear trend in which the least deprived areas have the lowest under-18 conception rates (and vice versa) and a close correlation between the deprivation scores and conception rates (Pearson correlation coefficient = 0.79).

In general, people at the lower end of the income/wealth scale will tend both to have larger families than their wealthier counterparts and to start having children earlier in their adult life. That’s a global phenomenon.

To put a few [accurate] numbers to that assertion for England, the average conception rate for under-18s in the ten most deprived local authority areas in England (in 2007) was 56.4 per 1,000 women compared to 22.7 per 1,000 in the ten least deprived local authority areas.

That is quite a difference but it also has to be remembered that conceptions are only a part of the story.

Abortion and Inequality

I’ve plotted the proportion of under-18 conceptions that end in abortion for each local authority against that authority’s average deprivation score – and now, the relationship looks just a little different.

What we have is a negative trendline; one that indicates that abortion rates, as a proportion of under-18 conceptions, increase as we move up the socio-economic scale from the most deprived areas in England to the least deprived. That said, there are a number of significant outliers in this plot and this means that the Pearson coefficient is relatively low at only -0.24.

The difference between the ten least deprived areas and the ten most deprived areas is also relatively small.

In the ten least deprived areas, 59.5% of under-18s who fall pregnant will, on average, terminate their pregnancy by having an abortion, compared to 53.7% in the ten most deprived areas.

So far, we’ve looked at the data for the whole of England, including London.

However, it has long been recognised that, for a variety of demographic and socio-economic reasons, conditions in the capital are atypical of those found in the rest of England and that, therefore, the inclusion of data for London will often give something of a false picture of the conditions experienced by the vast majority (86%) of the population.

Taking London out of the equation makes very little difference to the overall trend in under-18 conceptions, although it does lead to an even closer positive correlation between conception rates and local authority deprivation scores (Pearson coefficient = 0.86).

The negative trend, which shows that pregnant teenagers are more likely to choose to have an abortion if they live in one of the least deprived areas of England, is still evident in the data but the correlation between deprivation and conceptions ending in abortion is much tighter (Pearson coefficient = -0.53) and the gap between the least deprived and most deprived areas in considerably wider.

For the ten least deprived areas on this plot, the average percentage of conceptions ending abortion remains the same at 59.5%, but for the ten most deprived areas, removing London from the equation reduces this figure from 53.7% to 43.7%.

So, outside the capital, a pregnant teenager is just over a third more likely to terminate their pregnancy if they live in one of the ten least deprived areas in England than they are if they live in one of the ten most deprived areas.

When push comes to shove, it’s the middle classes that are much more likely to choose expediency over piety and, when faced with the reality of pregnant teenager, swing by the BPAS in preference to propelling their daughter up the aisle and into an early marriage.

Closing Thoughts

Not enough has been done, to date, by way of subjecting the foundations of the Conservative Party’s family policies to close, evidence-based, scrutiny – so this is an issue I’m almost certain to return to as we get closer to the upcoming election.

I will, however, leave you with this thought to chew over, which comes from the abstract of a 2006 review paper that examines the prevailing view of teenage parenthood in academic literature originating from the US, UK and New Zealand:

“A critical examination of the literature suggests that teenage mothers are vilified, not because the evidence of poor outcomes for teen mothers and their children is particularly compelling, but because these young women resist the typical life trajectory of their middle-class peers which conforms to the current governmental objectives of economic growth through higher education and increased female workforce participation.”

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About the author
'Unity' is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He also blogs at Ministry of Truth.
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Reader comments


Unity,

Another example of good research rather than flying off the handle. However, I do not see that this actually does anything other than reinforces the Conservative message – there are more teenage pregnancies in deprived areas, which is where ‘Broken Britain’ is found if you want to believe it exists.

I also wonder whether it is valid to take London out of the equation in the desire to make better fits. I don’t think London has different problems than the rest of Britain, just that it has them more concentrated with particular issues in particular areas. If Birmingham or Manchester was subdivided in the same way, a similiar picture would emerge. Perhaps it would be better to produce an average London figure if it is felt local issues are likely to skew results too much, but personally I think that ignores the issue.

It doesn’t reinforce the Conservative message. The Conservative message somehow suggests that they will improve pregnancy rates if they’re in power. They will do this despite two things…

1) The phenomenon of teenage pregnancy being (as Unity says) a global thing which has more to do with deprivation than anything else…and I would *love* for a Tory to claim they will be putting more money in to the hands of the young impoverished.

2) The Tory desire, although perhaps not so much on the front bench, to make abortions illegal which would only increase the number of single and impoverished mothers, further “breaking” Britain.

The Conservative message is also that there are significantly more teenage pregnancies in deprived areas, which can be seen here not to be the case.

Nice article, but, as with the above comment, I can only see this backing up the Conservative and Daily Mail claims.

What is this meant to demonstrate? By far and away the biggest correlation here is the original Conservative party claim. The abortion one has been skewed by the removal of London, a strange thing to do.

4. Earnest Ernest

What is this about? Doesn’t it more or less confirm the general perception that the Tories are so keen to play on?

ie. Girls in the most deprived areas are more likely to conceive before the age of 18.

I’m not sure why the abortion figures were brought up. I’m sure they’d only seize on them and conclude: “yeah well..that way they get a flat and more benefits”. Not sure what the point of the article was.

However..this stood out like flaming Zeppelin..”When push comes to shove, it’s the middle classes that are much more likely to choose expediency over piety”

Piety??? Why did you choose the word piety? You think that teenage girls have some sort of moral or spiritual obligation to go through with the pregnancy?…they’re more dutiful or virtuous if they do?…strange sentiments indeed…well, not strange coming from, say, Anne Widdecombe. I’m heartened to see that you feel able to express your inner puritan on a site like this and I sincerely hope you’re not bombarded with posts accusing you of loaded value judgements. I salute your indefatigability sir.

5. the a&e charge nurse

“A critical examination of the literature suggests that teenage mothers are vilified, not because the evidence of poor outcomes for teen mothers and their children is particularly compelling”.

Yet NICE say;
“It is widely understood that teenage pregnancy and early motherhood can be associated with poor educational achievement, poor physical and mental health, social isolation, poverty and related factors. There is also a growing recognition that socio-economic disadvantage can be both a cause and a consequence of teenage parenthood”.
http://www.nice.org.uk/nicemedia/documents/teenpreg_evidence_briefing_summary.pdf

I’m feeling rather confused!!

If anyone here has a more recent source on comparisons of teenage pregancy rates across EU countries later than this from the 2006 edition of the official publication Social Trends, Vol. 36, I’d really like to know about it – TIA:

“In 2003 the United Kingdom had the highest rate of live births to teenagers in the EU-25, with an average of 26 live births per 1,000 females aged 15 to 19. This was 19 per cent higher than in Latvia, the country with the next highest rate. Cyprus, Slovenia, Sweden and Denmark had the lowest rates, with around 6 births per 1,000 females aged 15 to 19.”
http://www.statistics.gov.uk/downloads/theme_social/Social_Trends36/Social_Trends_36.pdf

You could probably say from this that richer parents are probably a lot more pushy in convincing their underage children to get abortions. It could possibly re-enforce the Tory idea of a ‘Broken Britain’ but then again the gap between rich and poor dramatically increased during the Thatcher years.

Lee,

To address you last comment first, a quote from Unity:

“To put a few [accurate] numbers to that assertion for England, the average conception rate for under-18s in the ten most deprived local authority areas in England (in 2007) was 56.4 per 1,000 women compared to 22.7 per 1,000 in the ten least deprived local authority areas.”

That looks significant to me (250% difference!). Especially once you take the abortion figures into account, which further exacerbate the difference in births.

As to poverty, I am not sure. I think education also has a major effect (admittedly, it also tends to reduce poverty), but we would have to ask Unity if there is anything comparing say teenage pregnancies and educational attainment within communities with similiar levels of deprivation. Anyway, whatever the cause the Conservatives claim their commitment is to combat (appologies for the excessive alliteration) ‘Broken Britain’, so that might have to mean allieviating poverty.

And as to the Tory desire to make abortion illegal, where the hell does that come from? I know Nadine Dorries wants to make it illegal for later-term terminations (back to 20 weeks I think) and Edward Fox may just be that stupid, but I have never seen any desire on the part of most Conservative MPs to ban abortion. If they had such a desire, they would have done it when in government in the 80s surely when such a move might have been more popular and more in tune with the makeup of Conservative MPs at the time. Even in the US there is no clear Republican party move to make abortion illegal (which tends to be a view associated with the moronic religious-right, not say the last Republican presidential candidate (or believe it or not the last vice-presidential candidate – she opposes it personally but not politically(!))). That is like saying that Labour want to control what your children are allowed to eat – a ridiculous statement based on certain measures taken (not with that aim) and one or two stupid comments by Labour MPs. There is enough to criticise in the Broken Britain narrative without having to reproduce falsehoods.

The Tory desire, although perhaps not so much on the front bench, to make abortions illegal…

I think there’s a wikipedia ‘citation needed’ here. Or are you basing this entirely on the views of Ann Widdecombe? Because that’s like making Ruth Kelly representative of Labour views on abortion.

Watchman/JA

There isn’t the time or space to go into a full explanation of why London is a special case – it has to do with demographics, socio-economic differences between the capital and the rest of England and with differences in its administrative structures and public service infrastructure.

You’re going to have to trust me here – London is a special case and this is fully recognised by central government, the Local Government Association and by the NHS.

You’re getting the interpretation of the two abortion graphs backwards because what they show, amongst other things, is that it is the data for London that skews the evidence for England and not vice versa.

One reason why teenage pregnancies are disapproved of, is that there is a perception that teenage parents are supported by the state to a much greater degree than other parents. So it looks as if many teenage parents are deliberately putting themselves into a situation that requires a subsidy from the tax-paying population. Is this true?

“You could probably say from this that richer parents are probably a lot more pushy in convincing their underage children to get abortions…”

Sam,

You can’t say that without several major assumptions, which kind of undermines the evidence-based approach Unity is using here:

That it is the parents, not the teenagers, who make the final decision (I strongly doubt this especially in families with well-educated and independtly-minded children, of whatever social class). To be fair you say convincing not forcing.

That in the most well-off areas it is the rich teenagers getting pregnant, rather than the poor ones (there are poor people in even the less deprived councils, hence the lowest IMD score being c. 5 not 0).

That the abortions are mainly underage rather than 16-18 year olds.

That deprived families are less likely to express concern about the effects of a teenage pregnancy on their daughters’ future (fair enough, but still an assumption).

A&E:

Confused? The answer lies is this…

There is also a growing recognition that socio-economic disadvantage can be both a cause and a consequence of teenage parenthood”.

It’s an issue that, I’m afraid, leads inexorably to a lot of chicken and egg questions about causality.

Unity,

I accept it is different, and never meant to imply that anything you did with the figures was irregular. My concern is that making London a special case ignores the facts that this is the result of division of a single metropolitan area into sections that only otherwise might be seen in Britain around Glasgow (I note this is a comparison of English authorities though). I think the average data could be used on this basis: London does have a centralised authority after all.

I can’t accept demographics and socio-economic differences as a reason for ignoring an area anyway though – otherwise we should perhaps rule out Peterborough (high East European immigration) and Eastbourne (quite an old population) on the same basis. I understand your reasons for excluding London however, and accept it skews a pattern otherwise visible. I just wonder whether that is an advisable technique when any measures taken based on said pattern would affect London equally? Not a major issue, just a concern about use of data.

A nice piece of work Unity, excellent facts for political debates.

The difference between teenage pregnancy rates in different social classes is one issue but there is still the continuing puzzle about why teenage pregnancy rates are so much higher in Britain overall than in other west European countries.

The Indy on Tuesday reported this:

” . . the UK has the highest percentage of teenage pregnancies in Western Europe – and is second only to the United States, according to figures compiled by the World Health Organisation. . .

“The teenage pregnancy rate in Holland is only one-fifth as high as that of the UK – only five births per 1,000 teenagers compared to the UK’s 27. Its abortion rate per teenage head of the population is also one of the lowest in Europe.”
http://www.independent.co.uk/extras/big-question/the-big-question-why-are-teenage-pregnancy-rates-so-high-and-what-can-be-done-about-it-1623828.html

Could this be one reason?

“The survey of 35 countries found the UK had the third-highest number of 15 and 16-year-olds with an alcohol problem.”
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/lawandorder/5054380/Britains-chronic-teenage-binge-drinking-problem-highlighted-by-European-poll.html

So it looks as if many teenage parents are deliberately putting themselves into a situation that requires a subsidy from the tax-paying population. Is this true?

In general terms, no.

There are plenty of anecdotes that claim that teenagers are deliberately getting pregnant in order to gain access to benefits and social housing – and in some cases this may even be true – but very little evidence to support the idea that this is general phenomenon.

Without wishing to give too much away, as there are at least three or four more posts to be written to unpick some of these issues…

At the point at which the current government started to put in place its tax credits system, making the benefits system somewhat more generous to single parents, the percentage of conceptions ending in abortions for 16 years rose from 45% to 63% in the space of single year, while the conception rate for that age group stayed more or less the same.

If the benefits system were the main driver of teenage pregnancy then we would expect to see the opposite happening if and when the benefits system becomes kinder to lone parents.

What is this about? Doesn’t it more or less confirm the general perception that the Tories are so keen to play on?

Yes and no.

The evidence is what it is, and I’m not about to try to pretend otherwise.

What this post is about is starting to unpick the questions of:

a) why are the conception rates higher in deprived areas, and

b) what does this tell us about the different policies adopted by the main political parties to allegedly address this issues and especially whether those policies are likely to be fit for purpose.

As for the piety comment, that’s nothing more than a wry dig at those parts of the Tory right who believe that they can have their cake and eat it on this issue by stigmatising teenagers for getting pregnant and then stigmatising them again if they have an abortion.

It does, however, help set the scene for where I plan to go next with this argument.

Unity,

“As for the piety comment, that’s nothing more than a wry dig at those parts of the Tory right who believe that they can have their cake and eat it on this issue by stigmatising teenagers for getting pregnant and then stigmatising them again if they have an abortion.”

As I asked Lee earlier, who are these people (other than perhaps Daily Mail columnists, who I am now proposing we class as a seperate subspecies anyway)? It would be interesting to know, if only because I tend to believe the old maxim ‘know thine enemy’. I worry this is just a tired stereotype rather than the truth – a bit like saying the extreme left cannot work together because of factional differences (what do you mean have I read Laurie’s post…). If not, it would be useful to know.

anyone suprised by this is likely to be middle class.

As I asked Lee earlier, who are these people…

Patience, dear boy – all with be revealed in due course.

Seriously, this post is the start of a journey and intended primarily to put over the idea that things are not anything like as straightforward as popular myth might suggest.

Unity,

In which case I look forward to the journey. Can I bring liquids on this flight?

Emma,

Surely you mean ‘anyone surprised by this is likely to be from a different planet’?

23. the a&e charge nurse

[18] “why are the conception rates higher in deprived areas”.

Well to quote the NICE findings (again)
“Girls and young women from social class V are at approximately ten times the risk of becoming teenage mothers as girls and young women from social class I”
And;
“There is some evidence that certain groups of young people seem to be particularly vulnerable to becoming teenage parents” – they include:
•Young people in, or, leaving care (Biehal, 1995)
•Homeless young people (JRF, 1995)
•School excludees, truants and young people under-performing at school (Kiernan, 1995)
•Children of teenage mothers (Botting et al, 1998)
•Young people involved in crime (Botting et al, 1998)

Now one possible psychological mechanism that contributes to such behaviour is so called ‘repetition compulsion’.
http://www.real-solutions.info/

Put crudely, a % of teens may be drawn toward a certain type of family set up so that unresolved conflicts can play out over and over again in the reconvened setting – ultimately such patterns may embed themselves over several generations.

Freudian bunkum? …………. maybe, but as NICE point out there is some evidence that the children of teen parents are more likely to become teen parents themselves, and if we have the highest rate of teen Mums in Europe then it stands to reason that there is a greater probability that such patterns will be replicated.

As to …….. “what does this tell us about the different policies adopted by the main political parties to allegedly address this issues and especially whether those policies are likely to be fit for purpose”.

Well, even with the best of intentions the state has never functioned effectively as a pseudo-parent – perhaps a glib answer is that the UK should be doing whatever the Dutch are doing [16] ?

Excellent article but I’d be interested in how personal politics and/or religion fit in with this.

The middle-class is lumped together: clearly those middle class parents supportive of their daughter’s choice to terminate their pregnancy – that group The Mail would no-doubt regard as the ‘liberal elite’ – aren’t the same middle class people voting for abolitionist Tory front-benchers.

Also, politics and religion among the working class is by no means monolithic.

As others have mentioned this report doesn’t really challenge assumptions. Taking other factors into consideration might flesh this research into something more usefully three-dimensional.

a&e charge nurse,

“Well, even with the best of intentions the state has never functioned effectively as a pseudo-parent – perhaps a glib answer is that the UK should be doing whatever the Dutch are doing [16] ?”

The problem is in the main they are being very Calvinist (the Dutch are not generally socially liberal, just politically so so allowing those who are more freedom). Outside certain areas of Scotland that is unlikely to catch on.

Is there another generally non-religious (at least in morals) and socially liberal country we can compare ourselves with?

Unity

There is also a growing recognition that socio-economic disadvantage can be both a cause and a consequence of teenage parenthood”.

It’s an issue that, I’m afraid, leads inexorably to a lot of chicken and egg questions about causality.

Don’t you mean sperm and egg questions? 🙂

It used to be called a cycle of deprivation and it has been reinforced and perpetuated by this government’s social policies. For evidence of this, forget the ONS and statistical trending. Just watch Jeremy Kyle for a week.

I bet you don’t make it!!!!

So I really hope your argument is not going to stray into the territory of teenage pregnancy being a ‘good thing’ for the participants as long as we ‘support’ them more?

“For evidence of this, forget the ONS and statistical trending. Just watch Jeremy Kyle for a week. ”

Classic.

Forget evidence, just watch the TV.

It seems to me that the evidence cited here exactly supports what you might term the Daily Mail narrative: that teenage parenthood is chiefly a phenomenon affecting a de-moralised ‘underclass’. That where ‘social shame’ is still a factor (in the middle class), pregnancies are more likely to be terminated. And that the spiral of deprivation argument is true: children of lone parents are more likely to be poor; children of poor teenage mothers are more likely to become poor teenage mothers in their turn.

The Conservative Party plan is to challenge the cultural factors that promote the spiral, offer more hope/more options to the kids involved and foster the re-moralization of demoralized communities. Ending the near monopoly of statist bureaucrats and useless local authorities over the provision of care would be a good starting point.

“The Conservative Party plan is to challenge the cultural factors that promote the spiral, offer more hope/more options to the kids involved and foster the re-moralization of demoralized communities. Ending the near monopoly of statist bureaucrats and useless local authorities over the provision of care would be a good starting point.”

Wonderful spin?

However good the Conservative spin, I really do question whether charities and religious organisations or workers’ co-ops will be up to the real challenge.

What emerged from the tragic children-at-risk cases in the news in recent years was that frontline social workers, employed by local authorities, are hopelessly overworked with excessive case loads.

We really do need to focus on the embarrassing fact that the teenage pregnancy rate in Britain is so much higher than in other west European countries. Why is Britain so different from its European peers? It seems very evident to me that awkward question keeps being swept under the carpet.

“That looks significant to me (250% difference!). Especially once you take the abortion figures into account, which further exacerbate the difference in births.”

Well conception rates have nothing to do with Births, the abortion rate actually equalises the two sides of society ever so slightly rather than exacerbates things.

And on a person’s first birthday they are over 525,000 times older than they were a minute after their birth, yet only 79 times younger than they’ll probably live. Statistics mean the world without context. The context here is that even in the most deprived areas almost 90-95% of young women don’t get pregnant each year (and this is even without going in to the abortion rate that lessens any social impact).

Flowerpower:

“that teenage parenthood is chiefly a phenomenon affecting a de-moralised ‘underclass’. That where ’social shame’ is still a factor (in the middle class), pregnancies are more likely to be terminated.”

It’s not a phenomenon, a single year difference of 3% might be described as “margin of error” in another statistical analysis. The message is that pregnancies are so much higher in deprived areas, but that is only relative to already extremely low conception rates in less deprived areas. Conception rates are low, given that the data includes the 16-18 year group that are perfectly entitled to roger each others’ brains out.

Also, ignore my previous comments about abortion rates, I completely misread the graphs. I blame TV and the time of evening I comment. :shame: Needless to say I think that middle class abortion rates have less to do with being “shamed” and more to do with what that individual and their family think that they are going to get out of life.

It’d be good to get an idea of people’s likelihood to have an abortion under 18 after conceiving based on their future outlook and aspirations.

32. the a&e charge nurse

[30] “The context here is that even in the most deprived areas almost 90-95% of young women don’t get pregnant each year” – now who is playing the % game?

There were 98,500 teenage conceptions in England and Wales in 2003,
that is 12.2 per cent of all conceptions – around 40% of these are aborted.
Few if any of the OECD countries have comparable rates (as Bob B as highlighted) – so far nobody seems willing to put forward a hypothesis as to WHY this should be the case.

Lets remind ourselves “children born to teenage mothers are one of the groups at greatest risk of living in poverty. Teenagers who become pregnant have high rates of termination and many of those who carry their pregnancies to term REGRET having done so. It is clear that a strategy to end child poverty should try to reduce teenage births”.
http://www.jrf.org.uk/sites/files/jrf/9781859355046.pdf

It goes without saying that the birth itself is not just an endpoint – there are many worrying trajectories that arise each time a teen becomes a Mum, ranging from the psychological pain of termination (which may persist for many years) to “a host of evidence that teenage births are associated with poor outcomes for the teenage mother and her child, both in the short and long term”.

From, “Teenage births”, Jonathan Bradshaw (Joseph Rowntree Foundation) – see link above.

33. the a&e charge nurse

Oops – should say each time a teen becomes pregnant.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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    […] 16, pregnant and middle class – What the papers don’t say […]

  19. Liberal Conspiracy » Why do so many teenagers get pregnant?

    […] quickly recap the story so far, what we’ve found it that within England there is a strong link between conception, birth and abortion rates for women under 20 and local patterns of […]





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