Teenage pregnancy in the United Kingdom

The rate of teenage pregnancy in the United Kingdom is high; the only other OECD developed country with comparable teenage pregnancy rates is the United States. Teenage pregnancy is higher in more economically deprived areas. A report in 2002 found that around half of all conceptions to under-18s were concentrated among the 30% most deprived population, with only 14% occurring among the 30% least deprived. The number of resultant births is presently at the lowest rate since the mid 1950s. Also found was that the most deprived areas had higher proportions of conceptions leading to a maternity.[1] The 2008 underage conception rate in England and Wales was 13% lower than in 1998.[2] Over 60% of the conceptions led to a legal abortion,[3] the highest proportion since conception statistics began in 1969. Other studies have shown similar findings.[4]

Comparative pregnancy rate

As of 2016 the United Kingdom had the highest teenage birth rate in Western Europe. It is a long-standing social phenomenon that successive governments have attempted to tackle without major success. The Labour government elected in 1997 pledged to halve the number of conceptions to girls under 18 by 2010, but by 2008 the drop was only 13%, a level the Secretary of State for Children Ed Balls called 'disappointing',[5] dropping by 9.5% from 2009 to 2010 despite an overall increase in fertility.[6]

Change in pregnancy rate over time

Births to teenagers increased during the 1960s and peaked in 1971 at 50.6 per thousand of the population. Since 1971 they gradually fell to their lowest level since the mid-1950s. The proportion occurring outside marriage increased from around one in six in the 1950s to nine in every ten in 2006. Teenage abortion rates are currently at their highest rate since legalisation in 1968. Although the number of conceptions are falling, the proportion ending in abortion has increased over the last ten years.

Geographic variation in pregnancy rate

High teenage pregnancy rates are found in areas with low GCSE exam success such as Nottingham, Kingston upon Hull, Doncaster, Barnsley, Middlesbrough, Manchester (highest), Sandwell, Bristol, Stoke on Trent, Bradford, North East Lincolnshire, and Blackpool. In 1997 a study revealed that there was a north-south divide in England in the rate of conceptions to under-18s, with the highest rates and proportion leading to maternity being in the north, and the lowest rates with the highest proportion leading to abortion, being in the south, with the exception of London, which had high rates of both conception and abortion.[7]

Pregnancy rate by ethnicity

Among White British, 50 per cent of births are outside marriage. The highest levels of births outside marriage, more than 60 per cent, were among Black British mothers. Among British Asian mothers, the rate of birth outside marriage is only 2 per cent.[8]



1967: Abortion was legalised in England, Wales and Scotland under the Abortion Act. The first legalised abortions were performed on 27 April 1968.

1969: Over nine and a half thousand teenage girls (over one thousand two hundred being under 16) opted for an abortion in England, Wales & Scotland in the first full year of legalisation, (almost one in five of all abortions) the majority of whom were single. A survey of women seeking an abortion by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service revealed that almost two fifths of parents of single pregnant teenage girls were unaware of their daughters pregnancy, the majority of these being to teenagers who were not living at home.[9]

1982: In a court ruling a pregnant fifteen-year-old girl who had been pregnant once before was allowed to have an abortion against the wishes of her father, who did not want her to have one on religious and moral grounds. This is believed to be the first known case in Britain where an under-age girl has been able to obtain a legal abortion without the consent of her parent/s.[10]

2006: Mother of two teenage daughters Sue Axon lost her battle in the high court to try and prevent under-age girls from seeking an abortion without their parents' permission.[11] Figures revealed that there were 4,352 abortions in Britain to under 16s, up five percent on 2005.[12][13]

2008: The number of girls under 16 having an abortion reached a record level of 4,376 girls (4.4 per thousand of the population) in England and Wales during 2007. The number and rate fell slightly in 2008. 2007 statistics showed that the younger the age of the women at abortion the more likely it was to be in the second trimester. Seventeen percent of abortions to girls aged under-14 were over twelve weeks gestation compared to almost nine percent for women aged over 34.[14][15] Statistics from the Department Of Health for the three-year period 2006 to 2008 showed that the area with the highest rate of abortion in girls under 16 in England and Wales was in the Southwark Primary Care Organisation (PCO) at a rate of 9.2 per 1000 girls in the population aged 13–15. Seven out of ten of the areas with the highest rate were in London. Outside London the PCO's with the highest rates were Darlington (8.0), Manchester (7.3) and Hartlepool (7.2). The rate for the whole of England & Wales was 4.1.


1951: Throughout the 1940s the teenage birth rate rose from 15.0 in every thousand in 1941 to 21.3. At the end of the second-world war the proportion of teenage births born outside marriage had almost doubled from the beginning of the decade to a third. By 1951, the proportion had dropped to 16% a proportion that remained largely unchanged throughout the decade. There was around one in six pregnant brides during the decade, the proportion being even higher for teenagers with one in four being pregnant on their wedding day.

During the 1950s illegitimate teenage births made up just a small proportion of all illegitimate births, at just under 15%, with over half of all illegitimate births being to women over the age of 25.

1959: by the end of the 1950s the number of teenage births had risen nearly 50% from thirty-three thousand in 1955 to forty-six thousand, a rate of 31.6. The numbers of births to girls under 16 remained constant during the late 1940s and early half of the 1950s. From 1955 to the end of the 1950s the numbers of under-16s giving birth more than doubled.

1964: The number of births to women of all ages had risen 11% since 1960 to a post-World War II high of almost nine hundred thousand. Compared with an increase of almost 49% to seventy-six thousand (43 per thousand) among teenagers in the same period. The number of teenage brides marrying for the first time topped one hundred thousand. The proportion of them pregnant on their wedding day had increased from 25% during the 1950s to almost 40%, more than double the proportion to that of women in their twenties. The proportion of teenage births outside marriage had risen to almost 25%, the most marked increase was in the number of girls under 16 giving birth, with an almost 50% increase between 1959 and 1960 alone. The number of births to girls under 16 had increased by 125% since 1959.

1966: A Home Office survey on adoption revealed that the natural mother in over half of all illegitimate non-parental adoptions during the year was under the age of 21. There were almost eighteen thousand illegitimate adoptions during the year, with fourteen thousand being adopted by someone other than the parent(s).[16]

1969: Even though the birth rate to women of all ages was in decline, having peaked in 1964, the teenage birth rate continued to rise to a rate of 49.6 per thousand girls.

1971: Research revealed that illegitimate teenage births were more likely in women from a manual social class background than a non-manual social class background. Also that over half of women having an illegitimate birth before the age of 18 would go on to have a legitimate birth before the age of 25, compared to only a third for women who did not have an illegitimate birth in their teens.[17]

1973: Although the overall teenage birth rate for England and Wales had peaked in 1971, the number born to under-16s had continued to rise, to over one thousand seven hundred. This was a 55% increase since 1964, and a 250% increase since 1959.

1974: The number of girls under 16 in Scotland giving birth reached 148, up 39% since 1967. The number of abortions occurring to the same age group reached over 200 per year.[18]

1975: With the legalisation of abortion and better availability of contraception, the number of pregnant teenage brides had declined by 37% since 1970. The teenage birth rate also declined to a rate of 36.4 in 1975. However, the proportion of teenage births occurring outside marriage continued to rise to almost one in three.

1976: The proportion of all illegitimate births occurring to teenagers had more than doubled since the 1950s from 15% to 37%, whilst the proportion occurring to women over the age of 25 had fallen from 56% to 32% in the same period. However, the proportion of births occurring outside marriage to women of all ages was still only 9%.

With the legalisation of abortion came a drop in the numbers of illegitimate children being adopted from a peak of over nineteen thousand in 1968 down to almost nine thousand. In addition, the number of mother and baby homes had declined by nearly 72% since 1966.[19] Much of it due to the decline in the stigma attached to having a baby outside marriage and an increase in cohabitation among unmarried couples. There was also an increase in the number of never-married lone mothers, rising 44% since 1971, with half of all never-married lone mothers being under the age of 25.[20]

1981: The numbers of under-16s giving birth fell to the lowest level since 1965.

1983: The numbers of births to teenagers had fallen by a third since 1971 to over fifty-four thousand, a rate of almost twenty-seven in every thousand. The proportion occurring outside marriage had risen to 56 percent.

1986: The proportion of teenage women who were married had fallen from a peak of 11% in 1973 to just over 3%. The numbers of births to teenager began to increase, with the proportion of teenage births outside marriage continuing to increase to 69%, almost a third of whom were living at the same address at the time of the birth.

1990: The number of under-16s giving birth had risen 10% since 1981.

1996: The number of births to all teenagers continued to fall from fifty-four thousand in 1983 to almost forty-five thousand, a rate of almost thirty in every thousand. The proportion occurring outside marriage was almost 89% compared to 36% for women of all ages. Though the number of births occurring to under 16s in England and Wales increased to over 1,600, the highest level since the early 70s, with another 160 in Scotland.

Under-16 birth rates (per 1000 aged 13–15) in the 4 countries of the United Kingdom[21][22][23][24]
Year England Wales Scotland N. Ireland
1997 1.7 2.3 1.9 1.0
2002 1.3 1.7 1.2 0.9
2006 1.2 1.4 1.2 0.9
2007 1.1 1.3 1.2 1.0

2001: The Census showed that half of all teenagers with children were lone parents, 40% were cohabiting as a couple and 10% were married.[25]

2005: There were forty-five thousand teenage births with 92% being outside marriage. Almost 74% of the births outside marriage were jointly registered to both parents. Over half of these were residing at the same address at the time of the birth. The teenage birth rate of 26.3.

The numbers of teenage births in Scotland had fallen from five and a half thousand (28.3 per thousand) in 1991 to four thousand one hundred, a rate of 25.8 per thousand, with 97% occurring outside marriage.[26]

2008: The number of births to girls under 20 in England & Wales was 44,690, a provisional rate of 26.2 per thousand teenage women in the population. Despite much media attention and public anger over the UK's high amount of teenage mothers, the rate of births to teenagers is actually at its lowest level since the mid-1950s.

Trends in teenage pregnancy

The statistics presented here use the age of a girl at the outcome of her pregnancy (either birth or abortion), these differ from widely quoted ones used by the UK government to track the teenage pregnancy rate. which use the age of the girl at conception, unlike pregnancy statistics in other countries. Using pregnancy statistics by age of girl at outcome of her pregnancy allows comparison with other countries.

Teenage births in England and Wales (numbers & rates)[27][28]
Year Under 20 Under 16
Numbers Rate per 1000 women aged 15–19) % Outside Marriage Numbers Rate per 1000 women aged 13–15)
1955 33,000 23.5 16.7 200 0.3
1959 46,000 31.6 17.2 500 0.5
1964 76,000 42.5 22.5 1,100 1.1
1969 82,000 49.6 26.3 1,500 1.6
1971 83,000 50.6 25.8 1,500 1.5
1973 73,000 43.9 28.0 1,700 1.6
1981 57,000 28.1 46.5 1,200 1.0
1983 54,000 26.9 56.1 1,300 1.1
1990 56,000 33.3 80.3 1,300 1.5
1996 45,000 29.7 88.0 1,600 1.8
2006 45,500 26.6 93.0 1,200 1.2
2007 44,800 26.0 93.1 1,100 1.2
2008 44,700 26.0 93.9 1,200 1.3
2009 43,200 25.3 94.6 1,000 1.1

Teenage abortions to residents of England & Wales (numbers & rates)[29][30][31][32]

Year Under 20 Under 16
Numbers Rate per 1000 women aged 15–19) Numbers Rate per 1000 women aged 13–15)
1969 9,200 5.6 1,200 1.2
1971 20,500 12.5 2,300 2.3
1976 27,400 15.2 3,400 3.0
1981 34,900 17.3 3,500 3.0
1984 37,500 19.0 4,200 3.7
1986 37,700 19.8 3,900 3.7
1990 38,900 23.4 3,400 4.0
1994 28,500 19.6 3,200 3.5
1998 37,000 23.7 3,800 4.0
2001 37,000 23.5 3,700 3.7
2006 41,300 24.1 4,000 3.9
2007 44,000 25.5 4,400 4.4
2008 42,700 25.0 4,100 4.3
2009 40,100 23.8 3,800 4.0

See also


  1. "Teenage Conceptions By Small Area Deprivation In England and Wales 2001-2" (Spring 2007)Health Statistics Quarterly Volume 33
  2. "Teen Pregnancy Rates Lowest For Over 20 Years" DCSF
  3. "Conception Statistics 2006 (provisional)" Office for National Statistics
  4. Trevor Smith (1993). "Influence of socioeconomic factors on attaining targets for reducing teenage pregnancies". British Medical Journal. 306 (6887): 1232–5. doi:10.1136/bmj.306.6887.1232. PMC 1677579Freely accessible. PMID 8499852.
  5. Bawden, Anna (24 February 2010). "Teenage pregnancy rates fall, but not far enough.". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 23 June 2015.
  6. Roberts, Michelle (28 February 2012). "Teen pregnancy rate lowest since 1969". BBC News.
  7. "Geographic Variations In Conceptions Under 18 During the 1990's" (Winter 2000) Population Trends Volume 102
  8. "Half of British babies are now born out of wedlock". Mail Online.
  9. "Survey Of 3000 unwanted Pregnancies" Joan Lambert (16 October 1971) British Medical Journal
  10. (2001)'Comparative Health Law' Peter Decruz
  11. "Mother Loses Right To Know Case" (January 2006) BBC News
  12. "Abortion Statistics In England & Wales 2006" Department of Health
  13. "Abortions Scotland 2006" ISD Scotland
  14. "Abortions" (22 Jul 2008) Hansard Written Answer column 1071
  15. "Abortions" (3 July 2008) Hansard Written Answer column 1100
  16. "Home Office survey on adoption" (1971)
  17. Barry Werner Fertility & Family Background (Spring 1984) Population Trends Volume 35
  18. "Abortions & Illegitimate Births" (19 June 1978 House Of Commons Debates.
  19. "Mother & Baby Homes" (1978) British Medical Journal
  20. Richard Leete, "One Parent Families Numbers & Characteristics" (Autumn 1978) Population Trends Volume 13
  21. Office for National Statistics
  22. General Register Office for Scotland
  23. Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency
  24. Welsh Assembly Government
  25. "Census 2001 People aged 16-29" Office For National Statistics
  26. "Births Scotland 2006" General Register Office For Scotland
  27. Alison MacFarlane & Miranda Mugford (2000) Birth Counts Statistics of Pregnancy & Childbirth-Tables
  28. Birth Statistics Series FM1 Office For National Statistics
  29. "Abortions" (7 June 1989) House of Commons Debate
  30. "Abortions" (19 July 2005) Hansard House of Commons Debate
  31. "Abortion Rates" Social Trends 38
  32. "Abortion Bulletins 2002-2007" Department Of Health

External links

See also

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