A new report published today by the independent Policy Studies Institute, Teenage Mothers: Decisions and Outcomes by Isobel Allen and Shirley Bourke Dowling, provides a unique review of how teenage mothers think and behave during their pregnancies and after the birth of their babies. The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and gives an in-depth account of how teenage mothers from three areas made decisions about becoming pregnant, continuing with their pregnancy and their housing and living arrangements. Professor Isobel Allen, co-author of the report, says:Teenage mothers should not be stigmatised and treated as a universal problem. They are not all lone mothers living on benefits in council housing. But our research shows that this does happen to a substantial number of them and there is certainly a need for better education in sex and personal relationships to help dispel romantic views of life as a teenage mother. Young men need to share the responsibility for teenage pregnancy and motherhood.
'If I could live my life over again, I'd be working now and I wouldn't have a kid...'
'They make it sound like the council put you in palaces, but they don't... Who'd want to get pregnant for the sake of being put in a council flat?'
Among the key findings:
- The teenage mothers came from a wide variety of educational and social backgrounds and were not the deprived group of popular mythology.
- Few of them expected to end up as lone parents, in council housing or dependent on social security benefits. But a year after the birth:
- half of the women were no longer in a relationship with the fathers of their babies and one fifth had no contact with the fathers at all;
- the overwhelming majority were on social security benefits with over half totally dependent on benefits; and
- one third of them were in local authority housing with a further third on the waiting list.
- Most of them had not planned their pregnancies. They often reported being shocked or surprised to find they were pregnant even if they had not been using contraception.
- Few of them had considered termination of pregnancy. However, continuing with the pregnancy was often not so much a decision as an acceptance of what had happened, reflecting the sense of fatalism which characterised much of their subsequent behaviour.
- The babies' fathers often brought pressure on the women to continue with the pregnancy, even though the relationship foundered soon afterwards. Delight and joy at the thought of becoming a father was often very short-lived.
- Nearly 50 per cent of the women said that their own mothers had been teenage mothers themselves. Only just over half of them said that their parents were still married to each other.
- The women's mothers were often helpful and supportive, but half of the women had not discussed the pregnancy with their mothers at all. Grandparents were often shocked and disappointed, but most gave total support to the women's decisions and did not try to influence them. However, many grandparents found themselves with increasing responsibilities after the babies were born.
- One of the main features of the research was the constantly changing pattern of relationships from the start of the pregnancy to the time the baby was a year old. Those who were still in a relationship with the baby's father were mainly married or cohabiting, while most of the rest were single and without a steady relationship.
- Two-thirds of the women had educational qualifications, mainly at GCSE level, but one fifth had left school at 15 or younger. Nearly one third were unemployed when they became pregnant compared with nearly three-quarters at the time of the interview. Two- thirds of them said they had changed their work, study or training plans as a result of the pregnancy.
- A quarter were receiving income support when they became pregnant compared with over 80 per cent after the birth.
- There was no evidence to suggest that women became pregnant to get council housing or social security benefits. Most of them had known little or nothing about housing policy or benefits before becoming pregnant and the little they had known was usually wrong.
The report concludes that teenage motherhood often results in negative short-term outcomes in terms of relationship breakdown, financial hardship, dependence on benefits, lack of a social life, unexpected responsibilities, unsatisfactory housing, and difficulties in forming new relationships. But it must be remembered that this research found many young women who were happy with their babies, in stable relationships with young men who shared their responsibilities, were not on benefits and were living in their own accommodation. Teenage mothers should not be treated as a homogeneous group and policy and services need to be flexible to meet their differing needs.
As a result, the report recommends:
- There is a need for better and more coordinated programmes of education in sex and personal relationships, geared to exploring feelings and emotions, as well as the roles and responsibilities of both men and women.
- Information should be made available about the likely short-term outcomes of teenage pregnancies and the reduced opportunities for teenage mothers to lead independent lives and have fun.
- Educational programmes should be related to the lives young people lead and want to lead. Romantic views of life as a teenage mother should be dispelled by those who have had the experience of seeing their relationships hit the rocks and have been left 'holding the baby'.
- There should be a positive approach to reducing the adverse effects of teenage motherhood - not only to help lone parents return to work but to help all teenage mothers improve their education and vocational qualifications so that they can become more independent.
Contact details: Michelle McNally, PSI press office on 0171 468 2201 or 0374 624547
The authors can be contacted for interview via the press office.
Notes for Editors:
- Teenage Mothers: Decisions and Outcomes by Isobel Allen and Shirley Bourke Dowling is published by the Policy Studies Institute and is available from Grantham Book Services on 01476 541080. ISBN 0 85374 751 2.
- The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as one of 17 projects in the Population and Household Change programme. It is based on in-depth interviews with 84 women who had had their first babies in 1995 when aged between 16 and 19, and with 24 fathers and 41 grandparents of the babies. The study took place in Hackney, Leeds and Solihull which were selected to represent areas with high, medium and relatively low teenage pregnancy rates.
- Isobel Allen is a Professor at PSI/University of Westminster and head of PSIs Social Care and Health Studies programme. She appears regularly on television and radio and speaks frequently at conferences on health and social care. Her previous publications include Education in Sex and Personal Relationships, Family Planning and Pregnancy Counselling Projects for Young People and A Leading Role for Midwives?. Shirley Bourke Dowling is a former research fellow at PSI, and is co-author of A Leading Role for Midwives?
- PSI is a registered educational charity (no 313819) and has no association with any political party, pressure group or commercial interest.
|Press Release Index||Research Index||Publications||Home Page|