New research published this week by the University of Bristol, claims that within families, teen pregnancy tends to be contagious.
What an odd term to choose.
Contagious. Makes it sound like a nasty disease doesn’t it? Not, in my humble ‘I-was-a-teenage-mum-and-I-don’t-live-off-benefits’ opinion, a terribly positive start to the piece.
The study found that having an elder sister go through a teen pregnancy increases the chance of a teenage pregnancy in younger siblings – known as a ‘peer effect’. This peer effect is apparently a powerful force, doubling the likelihood of a younger sister becoming pregnant as a teenager, from one in five to two in five.
It takes me back to my school days, or my sister’s school days to be precise. My sister is four years younger than me and, I’m pleased to report, managed to resist the peer effect and hold off falling pregnant until in her mid twenties. No guilt for me there then.
There was a woman at our school who taught biology, and who had a particular dislike of me for some reason. Her bitterness was passed down to my sister, and became particularly apparent during a sex education lesson she was giving my sister’s class, when she was about 13 years old. (My sister, not the teacher. That would of course be highly inappropriate).
After the lesson, she took my sister to one side. I wasn’t there, but I can imagine her, arms folded across her chest, one eyebrow slightly raised, a fearsome look on her face, spitting out her words like daggers – “I hope you were paying more attention to that than your sister did.”
The point is though, that according to this new research, our biology teacher was right to be concerned. Sure, she probably didn’t go about it in the kindliest of ways, but still.
The irony is though, that whether or not she was paying attention in that lesson or generally, is likely to have had little effect on my sister’s chances of following in my slightly waddly, pregnant footsteps. According to the research, “greater education reduced the probability of a teen birth, but the influence of a sibling who had a teen birth outweighed the impact of higher education.”
Now this point confused me. Education is key right, but exactly how does completing a degree, which normally happens when you’re about 21, help protect you against becoming pregnant at 16?? Am I missing something? Isn’t that time travelling? How can there be evidence to show a causal effect of an event that happens after the thing it is supposed to be impacting? Isn’t it more likely to simply be a positive correlation, with girls who get pregnant young also then being less likely, due in part simply to logistics, to be able to go into higher education?
I’m confused. If someone can please explain this relationship to me I’d be very grateful.
It’s an interesting study, but I’m not convinced at how useful these findings are. OK, so you’re more likely to get pregnant if your sister does – it almost feels like common sense really. But what are the implications? How can we use these finding to shape policy, to make changes? I read through the research, looking for answers, but it seems the study is as inconclusive as this post.
It concludes simply by suggesting that “policies aimed directly at decreasing teenage pregnancy may also be needed to reduce teen births”.
Goodness me, you don’t say?
Well there’s our answer then, the magical cure – want to reduce teen pregnancy? Easy. What you need are some policies aimed at reducing teen pregnancy…