Reviews of Reproduction
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Reviews of Reproduction (1999) 4 184-190
© 1999 Society for Reproduction and Fertility
DOI: 10.1530/ror.0.0040184
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Teenage fertility and life chances

K Wellings, J Wadsworth, A Johnson, J Field, and W Macdowall

Teenage mothers and their children face poorer prospects in life than do women who delay motherhood until later in life. Moreover, patterns of early childbearing tend to be repeated in subsequent generations. Therefore, an understanding of the factors associated with early fertility is important for the prevention of adverse consequences. This paper uses data from the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles to explore these associations. Early sexual intercourse is an important predictor of early fertility, as is poor educational attainment, although it is not clear to what extent pregnancy acts to thwart academic ambitions, or to what extent poor educational performance leads to a need to seek personal fulfilment in other than academic goals. Thus, interventions designed to influence age at first intercourse and to improve educational performance both have potential in terms of impacting on teenage pregnancy rates. Family background also exerts a powerful influence on teenage fertility. Young people for whom one or both parents are absent are more likely to become parents early in life. However, the most important factor of family life determining the chances of teenage motherhood appear to be the quality of communication about sexual matters with the home. In terms of outcomes, teenage mothers are more likely to live in social housing, are less likely to be in paid employment and have larger than average sized families. Certain areas of the country, notably the older, run-down industrial areas, have higher rates of teenage motherhood than the newer, more prosperous areas. Because most of these effects are independent of one another, there is potential merit in intervening to prevent unintended conception at several points in a young woman's life. Primary preventive efforts are needed to reduce the rates at which teenage pregnancy occurs in this country. Yet, if the cycle of deprivation that means the children of young mothers themselves enter parenthood early is to be broken, then efforts must also be made to mitigate the effects of teenage fertility for both mother and child.
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