The majority of teenage pregnancies are unplanned and around half end in an abortion. Research has shown that teenage pregnancy is associated with poorer outcomes for both young parents and their children. Teenage mothers are less likely to finish their education, are more likely to bring up their child alone and in poverty, and have a higher risk of mental health problems than older mothers. Infant mortality rates are 60% higher for babies born to teenage mothers. As children they have an increased risk of living in poverty and are more likely to have accidents and behavioural problems.
Reducing the rate of under-18 conceptions is an ambition in the Department of Health's A Framework for Sexual Health Improvement in England and is measured as an indicator in the Public Health Outcomes Framework.
Between 1990 and 2017, the under-18 conception rate decreased by 62%, from 47.7 per 1,000 women to 17.9 per 1,000 women. The rate of decline appeared to accelerate in 2007. In 1999, the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy for England was launched, with the aim of halving the under-18 conception rate by 2010, from a baseline of 46.6 per 1,000 women. The evidence-based whole-system approach, alongside investment in contraceptive services, helped to achieve success in many local areas. Although this national target was not met, the under-18 conception rate has continued to fall since the end of this strategy.
The under-18 conception rate has decreased for ten years running. In 2017, there were 16,740 conceptions to women aged under 18 in England and Wales, equating to 17.9 conceptions per 1,000 women. This was a 5.3% decrease compared with 2016, and a 57% decrease compared with 2007. There are many factors that could explain recent reductions in under-18 conceptions, including programmes to improve access to contraceptives, a shift in aspirations of young women towards education, and the perception of stigma associated with being a teenage mother.
In 2017, 51.7% of under-18 conceptions resulted in an abortion, which is the highest percentage in over 25 years. This suggests that more needs to be done to prevent unwanted pregnancy through better sexual education for young people, promoting effective contraception and improving access to sexual and reproductive health services.
About this data
Under-18 conception rate per 1,000 population:
• Numerator: total conceptions in all women aged under 18.
• Denominator: total female population aged 15 to 17.
Office for National Statistics (ONS) conception statistics are compiled by combining information from birth registrations and abortion notifications. Conception statistics include pregnancies that result in:
• one or more live or still births
• a legal abortion under the Abortion Act 1967.
Miscarriages and illegal abortions are not included. The date of conception is estimated using recorded gestation for abortions and stillbirths, and assuming 38 weeks gestation for live births. A woman’s age at conception is calculated as the number of complete years between her date of birth and the date she conceived.
The postcode of the woman’s address at time of birth or abortion is used to determine the local authority/ward of residence at the time of conception.
Only about 5% of under-18 conceptions are to girls aged 14 or under, and to include younger age groups in the base population would produce misleading results. The 15 to 17 age group is effectively treated as the 'population at risk'.