BPAS admits drop in teenage pregnancies is due to reduction in risky behaviour and focus on education
18 July 2018
The report found that teenagers today are focused on their studies, and spend more time communicating with friends online than in person.
But they still claim sex education has helped
Between 2007 and 2015, the under-18 conception rate in England almost halved. Many have attributed this decline to the 1999 Teenage Pregnancy Strategy, which saw hundreds of millions of pounds spent on expanding access to birth control and sex and relationships education (SRE).
The surprising conclusion about teenage pregnancy strategies
Given that the Government announced last year that SRE was to be compulsory for all schools, including at primary level, research by Prof David Paton showing that cutting funding to teenage pregnancy schemes actually reduced conceptions caused something of a stir. He found that authorities making bigger cuts saw relatively larger decreases in both birth and abortion rates among teenagers.
Prof Paton's research, together with earlier work, suggested that the drop in conceptions might actually be due to "improvements in educational attainment – something which tends to increase aspiration and make early pregnancy less attractive." He also postulated that another explanation could be the rise of "generation sensible" - teenagers turning away from risky activities such as smoking, drugs and drinking and sex - a trend possibly encouraged by the rise of social media.
Even more surprising back-up
Now, his research has been vindicated by a surprising source. Bpas, one of the country's leading abortion providers, and vocal advocates of compulsory SRE, have published a report that gives a reduction in risky behaviours and focus on educational achievement as key reasons behind the drop in teenage pregnancies.
The BBC headlined the report as "Sensible, family-loving teens behind pregnancy rate drop," focusing on the finding that the teenagers surveyed were more likely to view time with their family as of high importance than time with their friends (33% vs 27%).
Education and less risky behaviour
One of the key findings was the importance teens place on educational achievement; more than 80% of those surveyed said performing well in exams or succeeding in their chosen career was a top priority, compared with 68% who said spending time with friends was a top priority.
The idea that a reduction is risky behaviour is behind the drop was also vindicated: teens today were found to "drink significantly less alcohol and see excessive alcohol consumption as a dangerous activity that puts them at risk of unwanted incidents. A significant minority (24%) report that they never drink alcohol, and of those who did drink, most did so at relatively low levels."
They're all doing it?
Significantly, the report challenged popular wisdom of the extent of teenage sexual activity, find that only one third of the 16-18 year olds surveyed (34%) said they had ever had sex.
The changes in interaction brought about by social media were also noted. Less than a quarter of those surveyed spoke to their friends face to face as frequently as they spoke to them online - and 70% spoke to them online four times a week or more.
Prof Paton commented: "This report backs up previous suggestions that there has been a distinct cultural shift in this generation, possibly driven by growth of social media, but which has led to reductions in a wide range of risk-taking behaviour, resulting in fewer teens drinking, taking drugs and getting pregnant."
However, he disagreed with bpas' conclusions that the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy contributed to the trend, and "that the government’s plan for mandatory RSE from September 2019 has the potential to further bring down teenage conception rates."
SRE increases STIs
"The fact that these trends [reduced risk-taking] have been seen in a range of other countries (Ireland, New
Zealand, US, Australia) provides clear evidence that it is not policy change relating to things like SRE
or contraception which has driven the change," he said. "Indeed, we now have strong evidence that SRE has little or no impact on teenage pregnancy rates
and that easier access to contraception not only does not decrease teenage pregnancy rates but can,
in the case of the morning after pill, lead to increases in STls.
"What is particularly interesting is that
the reduction in teenage pregnancy rates has come in a context in which schools have a significant
degree of freedom over whether and how to deliver SRE. Indeed, the biggest reductions in teenage
pregnancy in the UK have happened AFTER significant cuts to teenage pregnancy programmes.
"There appears to be no basis at all for the current Government’s plans to put SRE on a statutory
footing and, in particular, to force primary schools to deliver SRE from a very young age," he concluded.
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