Rates of teenage pregnancy in England have halved since the launch of the Government’s Teenage Pregnancy Strategy (TPS) in 1999 — and the greatest effect has been documented in areas that have received the most TPS funding.
A research report published in The Lancet is the first to demonstrate the long-term effect of a nationwide strategy launched by the Labour government in 1999. Then, the government committed to slashing teenage conception by 50% by 2010.
“England’s under-18 conception rate has fallen to its lowest level since the 1970s,” says the report’s author, Professor Kaye Wellings at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, UK. “What’s more, progress has been made towards halting the cycle of inequality that has long been associated with teenage pregnancy.”
According to MedicalExpress, the government initiated a multi-pronged strategy to reduce teen pregnancies. A major component was providing high-quality sex and relationships education to young people. The education campaign was complemented by youth-friendly contraception services and support for young parents to participate in training, employment, and education action at local levels.
The conception rate has dropped from 47 to fewer than 25 conceptions per 1000 women aged between 15-and-17-years-old. The most “deprived areas,” places with the highest rates of under-18 conception, enjoyed the biggest declines. In these places, conception rate dropped by 34 conceptions per 1000 young women between 1998 and 2013.
A decline in teenage pregnancy has been seen in other countries as well. For example, David Beasley of Reuters writes that the birthrate among teenagers has dropped to record low levels in the United States, continuing a trend that began in the early 1990s. However, results elsewhere have been less marked than in the United Kingdom.
“As young people globally spend longer in education and settle with a partner later we’re now seeing a near universal trend towards fewer early pregnancies,” says Wellings. “But the more striking decline in under-18 maternities in England compared with other European countries, and its close link with government investment in reducing teenage pregnancy rates, appears to reflect the intensive and sustained efforts of the strategy to address the problem by changing social norms and increasing access to education and reliable contraception.”
Lauding the positive outcomes of TPS, Isabel Hardman of The Spectator notes that real social change takes decades before its effects are felt. None of the program’s architects could have anticipated its successes, but, ten years since they have left office, society is reaping the benefits of their aggressive strategy. Teen pregnancies are at their lowest rate since the 1970s. In other words, Hardman writes that patience is required of politicians and of the public when working to affect societal change.
Still, The Daily Mail notes that England’s teenage pregnancy rates are high by comparison with other countries, such as those in Scandinavia or the Netherlands.
More work needs to be done to continue the downward trends. The authors of the report estimate that the conception rate dropped by 11.4 per 1000 young women for every £100 spent, or 8.2 fewer conceptions after taking into account deprivation and region.
“This didn’t cost the earth – just a quarter of the potential welfare costs for teenage mothers – and yet it is working, reducing both teenage pregnancy rates and inequality at the same time,” said Genevieve Edwards, Director of Policy at Marie Stopes UK. “We are still some way behind other European countries though, so it’s vital we keep this up and protect the funding and expertise we need to bring these rates down further still.”
The full report of declining birthrates is available online.