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Why does algebra reduce teenage conceptions?


2:00 pm - March 4th 2010

by Unity    


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I don’t usually do requests, but at the prompting of Watchman in comments, this is part four of my trilogy of posts on teenage pregnancy, and this time we’re looking at whether educational performance makes a difference.

I’ll keep this one short and sweet.

To try and answer Watchman’s question, I went back to the area data for local authorities in England (using data from 2007) and mapped the conception rates and percentage of pregnancies ending in abortion, for women under 18, against GCSE grades, using standard DCSF categories, e.g. the percentage of school levers gaining 5 GSCEs or better at grades A*-C, etc.

The main results are pretty much what most people would expect.

There is a positive correlation between conception rates and the percentage of young women leaving school without any qualifications at all, although the Pearson coefficient (PMCC = 0.4) indicates that the link here is not, perhaps, as strong as many people would expect.

For young women leaving school with at least some qualifications to their name, the correlation between educational performance and conception rates is a bit stronger (PMCC = -0.5 to -0.6) for most of the performance categories.

In general terms, areas with better GCSE results have lower conception rates in women under 18, although the link is a fairly moderate one.

There was, however, one very interesting result in the analysis.

Correlating conception rates with the percentage of young women gaining five or more GCSEs at grade A*-C for any subjects gave a Pearson Coefficient of -0.53.

However, running the same correlation for young women who gained five or more GCSEs at grade A*-C including Maths and English produced a much stronger result, a negative correlation of 0.71.

Why should writing essays and solving quadratic equations make such a marked difference?

Do nerdy girls not, as it were, fuck?

Not necessarily… and definitely not once they arrive at university, which is the key to understanding why GCSEs in English and Maths make such a difference.

We’re back, again, to questions of opportunity and aspirations.

Young women who gain five or more GCSEs with good grades, including English and Maths, are on a different life trajectory to those who just get five GCSEs in any subjects, one that takes them towards higher education and, particularly, towards a university education. Five GCSEs, including English and Maths is, for a teenager, a prerequisite for entry at most, if not all, universities in the UK.

For this group, the downside risks of early motherhood are massively outweighed by the upside of gaining a university education and building a decent career.

The rational choice here is to not get pregnant in the first place, but if you do get unlucky then the next best option is an abortion, and this explains why the correlation for the percentage of pregnancies ending in abortion is also stronger for the ‘with Maths and English’ group than it is for young women with any five GCSEs (PMCC = 0.51 against 0.29)

This is well-reflected by a comparison of the best and worst performing local authorities, when measured in terms of GCSE passes at A*-C including English and Maths.

The ten best performing local authorities, in terms of the percentage of young women leaving school with the magic 5 good GCSEs including English and Maths, have an average conception rate for women under 18 of 22.5 conceptions per 1,000 women and 64% of these pregnancies lead to an abortion.

For the ten worst performing local authorities the average conception rate is 55.7 per 1,000 of which only 41% lead to an abortion.

Education makes a difference, but not on its own – its the opportunities it provides and the aspirations it creates, and make possible, that have an impact on teenage pregnancy.

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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


“part four of my trilogy”

Everything is better when it contains a Douglas Adams joke.

Actually, Tim, there are two HHG references in there – see if you can spot the second one…

I look forward to Christian Voice campaigning against teenage girls taking Maths and English GCSEs, on the basis that they increase the chances of having an abortion.

Unity – the line about nerdy girls? Bit like a line from So Long and Thanks for all the Fish about Arthur Dent’s sex life.

Richard – spot on – its based on the slightly coy way in Douglas built up to the bit where Arthur shags Fenchurch.

Of course true liberals don’t support censorship. Anybody who takes censorship as their first choice in political discussion has nothing whatsoever to do with liberalism. Anybody doing so & caling themselves liberal is, by definition, in no way whatsoever honest.

Err.. bit of a non-sequitur there, Neil.

8. Shatterface

‘Richard – spot on – its based on the slightly coy way in Douglas built up to the bit where Arthur shags Fenchurch.’

You didn’t take Adams’s advice and jump straight to the end, which is the good bit, and has Marvin in it?

(And I should get credit for first introducing H2G2 jokes to the pregnancy debate with my earlier reference to Zaphod Beeblebrox’s greatgrandfather, Zaphod Beeblebrox IV, and his misadventures with a contraceptive and a time machine!)

I really feel that, in order to fully understand this issue, several more hypotheses need to be put to the test:

1. Girls who achieve highly in English and Maths necessarily have less time to spend on Biology homework, and therefore don’t actually know what sexual intercourse is

2. Girls who achieve highly in English and Maths are necessarily more ugly than those who do not

3. Girls who achieve highly in English are so busy watching the entire boxset of Pride and Prejudice (so that they don’t have to read the book) that they simply don’t have time for sexual intercourse

4. Girls who achieve highly in Maths don’t get invited to parties because, as nerds, they don’t have any friends, which has a statistically significant impact on their chances of getting laid

I’m sure there are more hypotheses that need testing, but these seem the most plausible.

@9.

there is interesting information from US campuses….the incidence of virginity is far higher among women taking science and math courses than amongst those doing arts. It’s virtually unheard of among those doing drama……

Do nerdy girls not, as it were, fuck?

Not necessarily… and definitely not once they arrive at university, which is the key to understanding why GCSEs in English and Maths make such a difference.

Hmm. Not exactly my experience.

12. John Meredith

How odd that we have come to accept that being educated is in some sense ‘nerdy’.

Dialogue from the film Gregory’s Girl – girls discusing boys.
“Do you think he’s a virgin”
“Naw he’s ben in the school orchestra for 3 years”.

“Naw he’s ben in the school orchestra for 3 years”

Doesn’t always work as my teenage self knew from bitter experience.

Still, I was at an all boys school so perhaps it wasn’t all bad.

15. Matt Munro

Unity – everyone f***cks, but middle class girls make sure the end result isn’t an unwanted pregnancy………….and everyone knows that educated, posh, birds are better in bed

Maybe the algebra correlation is something to do with intelligence, as in most people perceive maths generally to be “hard” only the brighter kids tend to excell at it and the brighter you are the more you have to lose by early pregnancy ?

I’m surprised no one has made this point yet:

“However, running the same correlation for young women who gained five or more GCSEs at grade A*-C including Maths and English produced a much stronger result, a negative correlation of 0.71.”

These days you need to be able to get A-C in Maths to prove you can count to 28.

Further, will say one thing for convent schools….counting to 28 is something they teach very well indeed.

We could go on looking for alternative explanations here>

“and everyone knows that educated, posh, birds are better in bed”

Better in bed is often used as a synonym for “not tab A into slot B”…..something which also tends to reduce the incidence of pregnancy.

18. the a&e charge nurse

Unity, I fear we are moving into the realm of data torture?
http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/short/329/16/1196

The core problem with this analysis -aside from narrowness if scope – is assuming that young women (and men!) are acting on a rational choice framework.

It’s pretty dubious, to say the least.

20. Mike Killingworth

[3] Tim F wrote

I look forward to Christian Voice campaigning against teenage girls taking Maths and English GCSEs, on the basis that they increase the chances of having an abortion.

I think you’ll find that the anti-abortion lobby doesn’t rate women’s education very highly. Unless of course this is another example of data torture.

Unity,

Thanks. Good to have the basic presumption (which we all made?) confirmed by the joy of statistics.

Incidentally, to build on the maths and English problem, it should be noted that the academic profile of those getting 5+ A*-C at GCSE including Maths and English will generally be taking more traditional academic options (please note this includes GCSEs in PE, CDT (or whatever it is called now) etc).

The 5+ A*-C without Maths and English include a surprising number who have taken ‘alternative’ qualifications ranked at 2 or 3 GCSEs, which might be epitomised by extended health and social care programmes or ASDAN (I do not actually know what that stands for, and I speak educationalese). These courses tend to be pass/fail, with pass pegged at equivalent of GCSE C. However, in my experience and that of others I have talked to (obviously I do not have access to statistics on this) those taking these programmes are often those that are not judged ‘capable’ of undertaking academic GCSEs (whilst this can mean the children in question are not academically-minded, I suspect this generally means they are not behaving well enough). So the notable difference in correlations is partially an effect of considering qualifications ‘equivalent’ to GCSE, which are not in any real sense (I am not downplaying these qualifications – I do not know enough about content and purpose to do so – but they cannot be equivalent as they are not academically-based). Mind you, that is still one hell of a difference.

Thanks again (and can we now expect the illiberal idiots against abortion to want to ban GCSEs?).


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Why does algebra reduce teenage conceptions? http://bit.ly/cJDYAB

  2. Business&Politics

    RT @tonyveitchUK: Why does algebra reduce teenage conceptions? http://bit.ly/cJDYAB RT @libcon [there are probably unknown factors]

  3. Unity

    RT @libcon: Why does algebra reduce teenage conceptions? http://bit.ly/cJDYAB – This is not as daft a question as it sounds…

  4. David Bain

    RT @libcon: Why does algebra reduce teenage conceptions? http://bit.ly/cJDYAB

  5. Tony Veitch

    Why does algebra reduce teenage conceptions? http://bit.ly/cJDYAB RT @libcon [there are probably unknown factors]

  6. Prym face

    correlation between births and gcse's-whoop de woo (?) http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/03/04/why-does-algebra-reduce-teenage-conceptions/





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