Teenage pregnancies in England and Wales are at an all-time low, official figures show. The rate of conceptions amongst under-18s dropped almost 10 per cent in England to 2.7 per 100 teenagers in 2012, the Office for National Statistics said.
The picture is similar in Wales, where just over three per cent of 15-17 year-old girls became pregnant in 2012. The same rate was recorded in Scotland in 2011, where teenage conceptions have also been declining, though their latest figures are not expected until the summer.
The falling numbers follow concerted public health efforts to reduce Britain’s notoriously high rates of teenage conception. It means that in England and Wales the teenage pregnancy rate is at its lowest since records began in 1969.
Public health experts warn, however, that Britain has yet to come in line with the rest of Western Europe. Alison Hadley, an expert in teenage pregnancy at the University of Bedfordshire and adviser to PHE on the issue, said: “Continued investment and dedication over the last ten years has paid real dividends but the England under 18 conception rate remains higher than other Western European countries.
“We need to find ways to both sustain the significant reductions we've made and accelerate progress. Evidence and lessons from local areas show us young people need comprehensive sex and relationship education in and out of school, easy access to young people-centred contraceptive and sexual health services, and targeted support for those most at risk.
“Progress needs to be everybody's business with strong local leadership and all practitioners and services in touch with young people supporting them to make informed choices.”
Middlesborough had the highest rate of teenage pregnancy, with more than five women in every hundred conceiving children. Mole Valley in Surrey had the lowest rate, with fewer than 0.9 per cent of girls aged 15-17 conceiving.
Professor Kevin Fenton, health and wellbeing director at Public Health England, said: “Today’s data show us high conception rates are not inevitable, if young people receive the right support. Teenage pregnancy and early motherhood can be associated with poor educational achievement, poor physical and mental health, social isolation and poverty, so it is vital this downward trend is continued.
“PHE is committed to supporting local government and partners to further reduce under-18 and under-16 conceptions, and provide support for young parents, as an important route to tackling inequalities, reducing child poverty and improving public health.”
The fall in young people conceiving coincided with an increase in older women having children. The conception rate for women aged 40 and over has more than doubled since 1990 from 0.6 per 100 women to 14 in every 100.
Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said: “These statistics demonstrate the trend towards older motherhood is continuing. At BPAS, we see many younger women who are choosing to postpone starting their family for a number of reasons: some have not met the right partner, whereas others want to wait until they have greater financial security, a home of their own, or progressed further in their chosen career.
“It is important that reproductive healthcare services, whether providing contraception, abortion or maternity care, reflect this shift. While pregnancy and childbirth for older women may present particular challenges, with some mothers requiring additional support, the answer is to provide the services that they need, rather than attempt to cajole women into having children earlier than they feel is right for them.”