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Monday July 17, 2006
By Sophie Goodchild and Jonathan Owen

Teenage girls who get pregnant deliberately plan to become mothers in the belief that a baby will improve the quality of their lives, a study has found.

The research reveals that girls as young as 13 are making a “career choice” by deciding to have children, since they see parenting as preferable to working in a dead-end job.

The findings from the Trust for the Study of Adolescence challenges the assumption that schoolgirl mothers are all irresponsible adolescents who are ignorant about using contraception.

The revelation that girls are actively choosing motherhood is backed by official figures, which show that nearly a quarter of pregnancies to under-18s are second children.

Britain has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe, with an estimated cost to the Government of at least £63 million ($186 million) a year.

The parts of the country with the most teenage births are areas of poverty and high unemployment; girls from low-income families are 10 times more likely to become teenage mothers than those from affluent backgrounds.

The research was based on interviews with 13- to 22-year-old mothers living in six deprived parts of Britain who had either taken a fatalistic attitude to getting pregnant by stopping using contraception or who had actively planned to have a child with the support of their partners. All those interviewed were aware how to protect against pregnancy and were strongly anti-abortion.

Nearly three-quarters were in steady relationships with the father of their child.

The vast majority of the girls said their lives had improved after having children, that having a baby had turned them away from destructive behaviour such as drink and drug abuse.

The study’s authors want ministers to use sex education classes to highlight the fact that fertility is at its highest in adolescence.

They hope to target girls who leave pregnancy to chance by offering them alternatives and to use those who have had negative experiences to educate others about the downsides.

But they also pose the question whether teenage pregnancy should always be avoided, given the positive experiences of the girls surveyed.