According to a 2008 Ipsos MORI the vast majority of the country believe we are in the grip of a teen pregnancy epidemic. Many commentators in the mainstream media argue this is symptomatic of a decline in moral values, social breakdown and the failure of sex education.
However, as the editors of Teenage Parenthood: What’s the Problem? point out, there is just one small problem with this widely-held belief – “the evidence does not support it.”
Firstly it should be remembered teenage births are much lower today than in the 1960s and 1970s. More importantly, the seven chapters of original, primary research conducted by a plethora of academics challenge the notion that teenage parenthood can only be a negative experience for the parents, children and society. Rather the studies show teenage pregnancy often improves young people’s lives, with teenage mothers frequently describing motherhood as making them “feel stronger, more competent, more connected, and more responsible.”
The research also highlights how the age at which pregnancy occurs has little effect on future employment and income in later life. ”The disadvantages associated with young motherhood are caused by the mother’s economic socio-economic position, not her age”, notes one academic. “Teenage motherhood is really a symptom of a disadvantaged life course rather than the cause of it”, further explain the editors. Rather than the stock tabloid hobgoblin of ignorant, feckless, work-shy benefit-scroungers, the young men and women interviewed are usually eager to work or continue studying, showing a keen awareness of the assumptions wider society makes about young parents.
So why has the public got it so wrong? In the introduction the editors highlight the role of the media, noting “there is the taking of what are extreme and untypical cases as representative” which is then used “as a lens through which the broader social issue of teenage parenthood might be understood.”
Written by academics for other academics and policymakers, Teenage Parenthood: What’s the Problem? is written in particularly dry, detached language, which doesn’t make it the most scintillating read. However, for those who wish to gain a deeper understanding of this ongoing media obsession and have their pre-conceptions turned on their head, the book is an essential first stop.
Teenage Parenthood: What’s the Problem? is published by The Tufnell Press, priced £12.95.