The extent of teenage pregnancy has been exaggerated in the past, but a new report shows it has fallen even further in England and Wales in the last decade and is now at the lowest level since records began.
Teenage pregnancy rates have dropped by 55% since 1998, according to official figures, and a new report by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) attributes the trend to a range of lifestyle factors among today's teens – using social media, reduced alcohol consumption and being more family-oriented. This, the report states, means today's teens are less likely to meet up face-to-face and less likely to have sex as a result.
For the research, 'Social media, SRE and Sensible Drinking: Understanding the dramatic decline in teenage pregnancy,' the charity surveyed 1,004 16-to-18-year-olds and found them to be more mature than previous generations, placing greater focus on their education and careers. Many, therefore, want to avoid "risky" sexual encounters.
In 2016, the latest year for which data is available, there were 18.9 conceptions per 1,000 women aged 15-17 in England and Wales, compared to 47.1 in 1969, ONS figures show, while Scotland and Northern Ireland have also seen the same trend.
Katherine O’Brien, head of policy research at BPAS, described today's teens as "a generation who are focused on their education, aware of economic challenges but determined to succeed regardless," and who enjoy time with their families as much as with partners and friends.
"They seem to place significant value on responsibility and maturity, particularly when it comes to alcohol consumption and sex. We believe that young people themselves are making different choices about the way they live their lives," she continued. "If we can maintain good access to contraceptive services for young people, there is every reason to hope this profound decline in teenage pregnancies is here to stay."
However, the fall in teenage pregnancies is no excuse to stigmatise those who do decide to have a baby early on in their lives, the charity stressed, adding that "many teenage mothers provide a loving, caring home for their child, and every parent should be supported.
"We must ensure that in welcoming and examining the decline in unwanted teenage conceptions we do not stigmatise those who make the decision to have a baby at this stage in their lives."
Refinery29 UK asked two former teenage mothers to comment on the charity's findings.
"I was spat on outside a local takeaway when I was pregnant"
Jaymee Edwards, 23, from Sussex, became a teenage mother in 2011 at age 16 when her contraceptive injection failed. She was six months' pregnant before she found out. Since the birth of her first baby, Emrys, she has had two more children with the same partner, Ffion at age 20, and Cynan at 22.
"It's great that teenage pregnancy rates are lower and great that more teens want to spend time with their families and drink less, but it's not always drunken rebels that become teen mums. I don't have much family, but they all reacted well when I told them I was pregnant at 16. I was always a carer for my mum who's disabled, so I don't think anybody doubted my capability, but friends were much less supportive and I'm only in contact with one person from school as a result.
It's not always drunken rebels that become teen mums
"My relationship with my partner was also difficult until we got our heads around it. But we're stronger for it and are still together with two more children. My social life disappeared for a while but we have a new circle of friends now. Once I had a job, everyone assumed I was older and it took me a while to gain the confidence to tell them otherwise.
"I definitely faced stigma. I was spat on outside a local takeaway when I was pregnant at 16 by someone who knew me as 'the pregnant girl from school'. Mum groups were an awful place to be as a young mum too, at my first one I was told people my age shouldn't breed and so I left.
"There are pros and cons to having a baby young. Money has been a disadvantage for us, we both work hard and my partner is self-employed but I'm still working towards a career. But youth is obviously a big advantage – night feeds were no problem and as a family we're very energetic and busy."
"People always say 'You look too young to be his mum'"
Rachel Burns, 28, from Edinburgh, became a teenage mother in 2006 at age 16. Her son, Ewan, was born in December of that year.
"I wonder if the fall in teen pregnancy is to do with today's teens having learned the lessons of previous generations. My son is dead against being a teen parent, but this is only a theory. I think there are many reasons why teen parents choose to keep a baby, so it's not as simple as saying 'people don't get pregnant anymore'. People are also less scared to be on contraception now – back in the mid-2000s, being on the pill was taboo in some places.
"I became pregnant due to a combination of alcohol misuse, antibiotics and bulimia. I don't know which of these factors finally 'got me' but I was on the pill, and for those reasons it wasn't effective. I decided to keep my son because a close family member ended up in psychiatric care after an abortion. At the time I was taking my school exams and it was around this time that everyone found out. I'd recently won awards for my writing so the biggest shock was the fact I wouldn't be pursuing a 'high flying' career.
My family were supportive to my face, but many others were nasty behind my back
"My family were supportive to my face, but many others were nasty behind my back. It was a big controversy on the small island where I lived. I tried hard to make 'mum friends' but even now I find it difficult – as bad as it sounds, I don't like socialising with other teen parents I've met over the years.
"I didn't receive any special help from agencies. The only support I had was my mum and when she became ill with rheumatoid arthritis she gave up her job as a teacher and I became the main breadwinner at age 19. It was tiring and a lot of work, but it taught me humility. I eventually got my own place at 23, after years of Mum, Ewan and I living together. I'm glad I did things this way as it gave me more freedom if I wanted to see friends – my son was never shipped off to other people and was always in his own home. I'm glad people left me alone to get on with it and learn to parent organically.
"People always say 'You look too young to be his mum' and 'Are you brother and sister?' This was tough at first but we laugh it off these days and I take it as a compliment – I have grey hair now, so of course I'm going to enjoy not seeming old enough to have a preteen! The worst thing about having a child young is that I haven't been able to travel like some of my pals, but Ewan and I plan to do it together when I'm 35, which is pretty cool."