A recent Ipsos MORI poll found that public perceptions on key issues underlying public policy – such as immigration, population structure and religion – are often wrong to a surprising degree.  One issue discussed in this poll was teenage pregnancy. The poll reported that British people think, on average, that 16% of all teenage girls aged 15-19 give birth every year, while the actual figure is only 3%. This post examines statistics on falling rates of teenage pregnancy in England and Wales*, and looks at variation between local areas.

The most recent ONS Conception Statistics show that in 2012 there were 44 conceptions for every 1,000 women aged 15-19 in England and Wales – equivalent to 4.4% of all women in this age category. This compares with a rate of 127 per 1,000 for women aged 25-29, the highest child-bearing age group. For those aged 15-17, the rate is 28 per 1,000. I will focus mostly on this latter group here – ages 15-17 – since the ONS conception data provides more detail on this category.

As the following chart shows, conception among girls aged 15-17 has fallen sharply since 2008 in England and Wales. In 2012 the rate was 30% lower than in 2007.

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Conception rates among 15-17 year olds vary substantially across the country. The following table and map show local authority-level data aggregated over the last three years.

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There is a negative correlation between 15-17 conception rates and educational attainment: areas with higher teenage pregnancy rates tend also to be those with a lower percentage of pupils attaining five GCSEs at A*-C including English and Maths.

Conception rates among 15-17 year olds have fallen in almost every local authority since 1998, as the next map shows. In particular, many areas of Inner London and South Wales have experienced a substantial fall. Only in Devon is there a cluster of authorities where rates have risen – but as the map above shows, most of these areas still have lower than average teenage pregnancy rates even after these rises. The other areas with rising rates highlighted below are Maldon (Essex), Rushcliffe (Notts), Daventry (Northants) and South Ribble (Lancs).

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The fall in conception rates is not the only interesting trend in this data. The breakdown of outcomes has also changed since 1998: pregnancies among 15-17 year olds are now more likely to result in abortion, with close to 50% of such pregnancies having this outcome. The abortion rate among this age group actually rose between 2004 and 2007, but since then has fallen along with the maternity rate. As a result, while the conception rate has fallen by 40% since 1998, the maternity rate has fallen by 48%.

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Once again, there is substantial variation in the prevalence of abortion among pregnant 15-17 year olds across England and Wales. The following chart shows the percentage of conceptions resulting in abortion by local authority from 2010 to 2012. Notice that while Rutland and Uttlesford (Essex) were both among the areas with the lowest conception rates above, they appear in opposite categories here: Rutland has among the lowest percentage of conceptions resulting in abortion, while Uttlesford has among the highest.

There is a slight negative correlation between conception rate and percentage of conceptions resulting in abortion – meaning that areas with lower conception rates tend to have a slightly higher percentage of conceptions resulting in abortion. The following map shows local variation in this data. In areas shaded white, data is unavailable or has been suppressed.

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The next ONS conception data release, covering 2013, is due in February-March 2015.

Carl Baker

* Data for Scotland, using slightly different categories, is available here. Northern Irish data is available here.
** The ‘above average’/’below average’ categories on the maps in this post are defined in terms of standard deviations from the average.