American Psychological Society: As teen pregnancies continue to rise, new study reveals that conflict is the strongest predictor of high risk

Aggressive schoolgirls who get into fights with their peers are more likely to become teenage mothers.

Aggressive schoolgirls who get into fights with their peers are more likely to become teenage mothers.

A study of sexually active girls aged 15 to 19 found that physical fighting or using aggressive language was a better predictor of them becoming pregnant than drinking alcohol or depression.

Alcohol has been seen as an important cause of teenage pregnancy as it was thought to encourage random sex and inconsistent or ineffective contraceptive use, but the findings showed girls who became pregnant were far less likely than their peers to drink heavily.

Teenage pregnancy is a big problem both in the United States and Britain. Britain has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe. Public health experts have been alarmed at the marked rise in the pastfive years of unprotected sex, which has led to an increase in sexually transmitted diseasesamong teenagers.

In Britain, the Government's women unit has done extensive research into the problem of teenage pregnancy, concentrating on safe-sex messages and deprivation. But it has not yet found a solution. The authors, who spoke at the American Psychological Society's annual conference in Washington, believe their findings could be used to identify and help those girls most at risk of teenage pregnancy.

Dr Ann Loper, and colleagues from the University of Virginia, followed 400 sexually active girls for two years to discover which ones became pregnant and why. "Odds of becoming pregnant were doubled for girls who reported fighting behaviour, while they were reduced for girls who reported drinking more alcohol," Dr Loper said. "The lower rates of pregnancy among sexually active girls that drink is consistent with evidence that high rates of alcohol consumption lowers fertility and conception rates."

Dr Loper said women who fought were twice as likely to become pregnant because they had more difficult home lives. They generally displayed more delinquent behaviour so were less likely to use contraception.

"Of sexually active girls the strongest predictor of pregnancy was increased fighting. They are engaging in high-risk behaviour, they are more impulsive, more delinquent, from poorer backgrounds and are more willing to become pregnant," she said. "Delinquent girls who come from broken homes feel unloved and want a baby who is going to be unconditionally attached to them.

"We should look at whether specific aggression-reduction efforts, such as conflict resolution, would help prevent pregnancy."

The number of teenagers having under-age sex has doubled in 10 years among girls, and now 37.5 per cent of 15-year-old girls admit to having full sexual intercourse. Figures produced by Edinburgh University for the World Health Organisation show that 33 per cent of boys admit to full sex at the same age, a rise of one-third in the past decade.

In England and Wales there were 101,500 teenage pregnancies in 1998 compared with 85,000 in 1994. Nearly two-thirds of girls go on to have their babies, with an estimated 64,000 children born to teenage mothers every year.