The economics of teenage pregnancies

A study finds teenage pregnancies occur more frequently in socially backward areas than affluent areas, but the opposite holds true for abortions

Published: Saturday 31 July 1993

SOCIOECONOMIC factors greatly influence pregnancy rates among teenagers, according to a 11-year study by Trevor Smith published in the British Medical Journal.

The study, based in Tayside, Scotland, found the pregnancy rate in girls below 16 years was three times as high in the most deprived areas as in the most affluent ones and among girls below 20 years, it was six times as high.

However, the proportion of abortions was greater in affluent areas, possibly because of social and parental pressure. In the affluent sectors, around 65 per cent of the pregnancies ended in abortions, whereas in most deprived sectors, only 25 per cent of the pregnancies were terminated.

Surprisingly, money was not a determining factor for abortions, as all of them were carried out in hospitals that don't charge fees. Neither was availability of hospital services, because most of the deprived areas are close to the two hospitals where most of the abortions were carried out.

During the period of study from January 1980 to December 1990, however, the overall rate of conception and the proportion of abortions in the whole of Tayside changed little. Besides, none of the deprived sectors showed a marked change in rates of teenage pregnancies over these years. There was, nevertheless, a slight fall in the absolute numbers of teenage pregnancies between 1980 and 1990, probably caused by the decline in the teenage population.

The study indicates a regional approach has to be adopted in setting and achieving targets for countering the problem of teenage pregnancies. The British government aims at reducing the conception rate in girls below 16 from 9.5 per 1,000 in 1989 to 4.8 per 1,000 in 2000.

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