United Kingdom

Underage pregnancies

Graphs on this page:

Supporting information:

Key points

  • At 7,900, the overall number of underage (under 16) conceptions in 2009 was similar to that of a decade previously, although a lower proportion now lead to actual births.
  • The number of actual births arising from underage conceptions was lower in 2009 than in any year of the previous decade: 3,200 in 2009 compared with 4,100 in 1999.
  • In 2009, two-fifths of underage conceptions resulted in births and the other three-fifths in abortions.
  • Teenage motherhood is eight times as common amongst those from manual social background as for those from managerial and professional backgrounds.
  • The underage conception rate is highest in the North East of England.  Its rate of 11 per 1,000 girls aged 13 to 15 compares to 6 per 1,000 in the region with the lowest rate (East of England).

Why this indicator was originally chosen

One particularly vulnerable group are girls who give birth as teenagers.  Early child-bearing poses both physical and emotional risks for the young mother.  There are also concerns about the risks to the children of young mothers including low school attainment, antisocial behaviour, substance abuse and early sexual activity. 1  Many young teenage mothers drop out of school early, 2 and more than half never resume their education, even though they are below the statutory school leaving age. 3

Definitions and data sources

The first graph shows the number of conceptions per year to girls conceiving under the age of 16, with the data shown separately for delivered babies and for abortions.

The second graph shows the same data but in terms of rates per 1,000 girls aged 13 to 15.

The data sources for the first two graphs are ONS conception statistics (England and Wales) and ISD Scotland (Scotland).  The data relates to Great Britain.  English and Welsh conceptions leading to births are counted during the actual year of conception, whilst Scottish conceptions are counted after the birth of the child, which is commonly in the calendar year following conception.  ONS population projections have been used for the number of 15-year-old girls.

The third graph shows, for the latest year, the number of live births by females aged 15 to 19 in each social class as a proportion of the total live births by females of that social class.  It should be noted that this is a very different measure from the first graph: whatever concerns there may be about 18- or 19-year-olds giving birth, such mothers are adults and the sexual intercourse that gave rise to the conception will have been legal.  The data source is ONS child mortality statistics (although the data is no longer publicly available) and the data is for England and Wales.  The analysis is based on the recorded social class of the father of the baby and, as such, it does not include the 25% of births to females aged 15 to 19 which were sole registrations.

The fourth graph shows how the conception rate for girls aged 13 to 15 varies by region, with the data shown separately for delivered babies and for abortions.  The data sources are ONS conception statistics (England and Wales) and ISD Scotland (Scotland).  To improve its statistical reliability, the data is averaged for the latest three years.

Overall adequacy of the indicator: medium.  The collection of the conception and births statistics is an established process.

External links

Relevant 2007 Public Service Agreements

Overall aim:  Increase the number of children and young people on the path to success

Lead department

Department for Children, Schools and Families.

Official national targets

Reduce the proportion of young people not in education, employment or training by 2 percentage points by 2010.

Reduce the under-18 conception rate by 50% by 2010 as part of a broader strategy to improve sexual health.

Other indicators of progress

Young people participating in positive activities.

Young people frequently using drugs, alcohol or volatile substances.

First-time entrants to the Criminal Justice System aged 10-17.

Previous 2004 targets

Reduce the under-18 conception rate by 50% by 2010 as part of a broader strategy to improve sexual health.

The numbers

Graph 1 and 2

 NumbersRate per 1,000 girls aged 13 to 15
Year Births Abortions BirthsAbortions
1994 4,300 4,300    
1995 4,700 4,200    
1996 5,000 4,800 4.8 4.6
1997 4,600 4,500 4.5 4.4
1998 4,500 4,800 4.3 4.6
1999 4,100 4,400 3.9 4.2
2000 4,100 4,700 3.8 4.4
2001 3,800 4,700 3.5 4.4
2002 3,800 4,700 3.5 4.3
2003 3,700 4,900 3.3 4.5
2004 3,600 4,700 3.2 4.3
20053,700 4,900 3.3 4.4
20063,500 5,100 3.2 4.7
20073,500 5,500 3.2 5.1
20083,200 5,100 3.0 4.8
20093,100 4,700 3.0 4.5

Graph 3

Managerial & Professional Intermediate Routine & Manual
1.1% 3.5% 8.3%

Graph 4

Region Rates per 1,000 girls aged 13-15
Births Abortions Total conceptions
East 2.3 3.6 5.9
East Midlands 3.3 4.4 7.7
London 2.7 5.8 8.5
North East 4.6 6.1 10.7
North West 3.5 5.5 9.0
Scotland 3.3 4.7 8.0
South East 2.4 3.9 6.2
South West 2.5 4.1 6.6
Wales 3.6 4.4 8.0
West Midlands 3.3 5.4 8.7
Yorkshire and The Humber 4.0 5.5 9.5
1. Farrington, D Understanding and preventing youth crime, Joseph Rowntree Social Policy Research paper 93, April 1996.  Also, see Gustavsson, N and Segal, E Critical Issues in Child Welfare, Sage Publications, 1994, page 26. 
2. Gustavsson, N and Segal, E Critical issues in child welfare, Sage Publications, 1994, page 26. 
3. The needs and cares of adolescents, British Paediatric Association, 1985, page 20.