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Focus: What's next for women? - The worrying trends

Women aged 16 to 24 experience disproportionately more violence than women as a whole: 13 per cent of all violent crime, though less than young men (25 per cent).

The UK has the highest rates of abortions and births in western Europe and amongst teenage girls - a rate of 8.5 pregnancies per 1,000 13- to15- year-olds. The gap widened in the 1980s when other countries' rates fell.

For those in employment, the pay gap is already evident in the teens: in April 1998, women aged under 18 working full time earned pounds 3.31 per hour. Their male counterparts earned pounds 3.47. Women aged 18 to 20 earned pounds 4.51 per hour, compared with 18-20-year-old men's pounds 4.77.

20 per cent of 16-19-year-old women in England and Wales had used drugs in 1996, compared with 29 per cent of 16-19-year-old men.

Smoking is on the increase among teenage girls in England: by the age of 15, one in three young women smoked in 1996 compared with one in four in 1986 and one in four boys in 1996.

Acohol consumption is also on the increase: for example, amongst those aged 18 to 24, proportions of women in Great Britain drinking more than 14 units per week increased from 19 per cent in 1986 to 24 per cent in 1996; and alcohol consumption among 18- to 24-year-olds is higher than for any other age group of women.

In 1995-96, a greater percentage of 16-year-old women than men in Britain achieved a GCSE grade A to C or equivalent in English, modern languages and history. Men performed slightly better in craft, design and technology.

Achievements in Britain at GCSE level in maths, science and geography are similar for both genders. Yet at A-level, more than three-fifths of entrants for maths are male. Women predominate in arts and modern languages.

In 1995-96, 51 per cent of 16-year-old girls in the UK achieved five or more A to C grades at GCSE or SCE Standard Grade, compared with 41 per cent of boys.

Comparison with similar figures from 1975 and 1985 suggests that both young men and young women have improved their performance at this level, but that the improvement for young women has been far greater than that for young men.

The proportion of young women achieving two or more A levels or equivalents has almost doubled since the mid-1970s. Since 1988-89 women have outperformed men at this level. In 1995-96 23 per cent of women and 20 per cent of men achieved two or more A-levels.

The Government concludes that:

l Girls' teenage years appear to signal a point of transition after which, for some, opportunities do not match earlier aspirations and achievement.

l Society's attitudes and/or expectations of girls themselves may inhibit them from achieving their potential.

l Some teenage girls are at risk of social exclusion and self-damage as a result of lifestyle and behaviour.