There is a lot of research out there that gets ignored because it doesn't give the right message or it doesn't fit in with current policy. The poor outcomes often 'associated' with teenage pregnancy are more likely to be due to 'pre-pregnancy' background factors. In other words, any longer term negative outcomes would not necessarily be reduced simply by delaying childbirth. Here are some examples of research that take this into account:

  • The sample for this Joseph Rowntree report, ''Planned' Teenage Pregnancy: Views and experiences of young people from poor and disadvantages backgrounds' (Carter and Coleman, 2006), were specifically from deprived backgrounds and all planned their pregnancy (so not representative). However, most do say that having a baby made their lives more positive with many using the experience to turn their lives around. 'Mothers saw parenthood as providing an opportunity to create a loving family,  a new purpose, sense of capability and satisfaction.'* (However, Beverly Hughes MP responded to this research by stating 'This is an unfortunate study which, on the basis of a very small and carefully selected sample, suggests that teenage pregnancy can be a positive option for some young people. We reject that view completely.')

  • Some longitudinal research using the 1970 British Cohort Study in the report 'Does a Teen-Birth have long term impacts on the Mother' (Ermisch and Pavalin, 2003) has shown that by comparing young mothers to those who became pregnant as teenagers and had a miscarriage (as this is the only reliable way to compare samples due to strong selection bias for those who get pregnant, and then those who chose not to have an abortion) there were no significant differences in outcomes at age 30 between the two groups with regards to employment, income and qualifications.
  •  'Whats the problem with Teenage Parents' (Duncan, 2007) summarises a lot of the research available and concludes that: 'teenage childbirth...is rarely a catastrophe for young women, and teenage parenting does not particularly cause poor outcomes for mothers and their children.  Expectations of motherhood can be quite high and parenting can be a positive experience for many young men and women.' This and more has recently been put together in a book entitled Teenage Parenthood: Whats the problem?

What's important to take away from all this research is not that being a young mum is easy and makes no difference to your 'life outcomes', but that having a baby while still young can actually spur young people on to overcome any struggles and effectively catch up.  Young motherhood is rarely a problem in itself. However, society's attitude to young parents and the barriers that are put in the way, or refusal to understand, often do make things a lot more difficult for young mothers than they need to be....

  • In the recent Barnodo's report, 'Not the End of the Story' (Evans and Slowley, 2010), the authors highlight some of the barriers for young mothers returning to education such as the age limit on Care to Learn, pregnant pupils being unofficially excluded, the lack of support or clarity on maternity rights and the bullying caused by the stigma of being a teenage mum.  The recommendations in this report are particularly important in relation to the policy to raise the participation age to 18.

For further research please look at my reading list. For people who like numbers here are links to the DfE page on annual under 18 conception rates  and the data.gov page on quarterly rates (HINT:they are going DOWN not up!) and here is a link to the YWCA factsheet dispelling some of the myths about young mothers.

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