There is widespread policy concern with high rates of unintended teenage pregnancy in the UK, the highest in Western Europe. Social disadvantage and teenage pregnancy are strongly related. This review systematically examines research relating to policy initiatives aimed at tackling the social exclusion associated with unintended teenage pregnancy and young parenthood. Two separate reviews of evidence were conducted: a review of evidence relating to the prevention of unintended pregnancy; and a review of the research evidence relating to the support of teenage parents.
Who wants to know?
Policy-makers, practitioners, researchers, and young people.
What did we find?
- Studies of young people’s views about their experiences revealed three recurrent themes: dislike of school; poor material circumstances and unhappy childhoods; and low expectations for the future.
- Early childhood interventions and youth development programmes appear to be both effective and appropriate, perhaps because they promote healthy relationships and engagement with learning and ambition.
- A statistical meta-analysis revealed that these approaches reduced by 39% the number of young women reporting teenage pregnancy, and also had a positive effect on employment and economic status.
- Studies of young parents’ views about their experiences highlighted how diverse their needs and preferences are: they described struggles against negative stereotypes of teenage parenthood; heavy reliance on family support; the continuation of problems existing before parenthood; and the wider costs and benefits of education and employment.
- Educational and career development programmes appear to be both effective and appropriate, increasing by 213% the number of young parents returning to education or training in the short-term.
- Although positive short-term effects were evident for daycare and welfare sanction/bonuses programmes, none of these types of interventions showed any long-term effects.
- The most promising approach for reducing repeat pregnancy appears to be the provision of daycare.
What are the implications?
- Policy-makers should consider investing in early childhood interventions and youth development programmes as routes to lowering teenage pregnancy rates in the UK. Programmes should be tailored to the needs of young people. Implementation of wider measures to tackle social disadvantage and poverty among young people should continue.
- Policy-makers should favour education and career development programmes that provide support for childcare to encourage young parents back into education, training and employment.
- Further research is required to explore the perspectives and experiences of young men and young fathers and to evaluate the effectiveness of interventions developed for them.
- The conclusions of this review need to be set against the findings of sex education research. Although sex education is an important part of young people's preparation for adulthood, the evidence is that it is not, on its own, an effective strategy for encouraging teenagers to postpone parenthood.
- Significant research gaps have been highlighted, particularly the lack of evidence from the UK relating to the value of socio-structural interventions, and the neglect of the messages arising from qualitative research with young people themselves.
How did we get these results?
For the teenage pregnancy reviews, the results of ten evaluations of interventions and five studies of young people's views were synthesised. Five of these outcome evaluations were included in two meta-analyses.
For the parenting support review, the results of eighteen evaluations of interventions and twenty studies of young people's views were synthesised. Nine of these outcome evaluations were included in four meta-analyses.
This report should be cited as: Harden A, Brunton G, Fletcher A, Oakley A, Burchett H, Backhans M (2006) Young people, pregnancy and social exclusion: a systematic synthesis of research evidence to identify effective, appropriate and promising approaches for prevention and support. London: EPPI Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London.