Sex education and free con­tra­cep­tion ‘in­creased teen preg­nancy rates’

Daily Mail - - Life - By Eleanor Hard­ing Education Cor­re­spon­dent

SEX education and the ad­ver­tis­ing of birth con­trol may have in­creased teenage preg­nancy rates rather than cut them, ac­cord­ing to a study.

Aca­demics found that govern­ment spend­ing on teach­ing young­sters about sex and ac­cess to con­tra­cep­tives may have ac­tu­ally en­cour­aged risky be­hav­iour.

The re­search chal­lenges the view that cut­ting money for such projects leads to an in­crease in teen preg­nan­cies.

In re­al­ity the re­verse ap­pears to have hap­pened, ac­cord­ing to Pro­fes­sor David Pa­ton, of the Not­ting­ham Univer­sity Busi­ness School, and Liam Wright, of Sh­effield Univer­sity.

They said that in 1999, when Bri­tain had some of the high­est teen preg­nancy rates in Europe, the govern­ment paid coun­cils tens of mil­lions of pounds a year to tackle the prob­lem.

Some coun­cils made the morn­ing-af­ter pill freely avail­able at phar­ma­cies. Many also hired teenage preg­nancy ‘co- or­di­na­tors’, opened sex­ual health clin­ics in schools, and funded sex and re­la­tion­ship education classes.

In 2010 the grants were scrapped, prompt­ing an out­cry from cam­paign­ers who said it would lead to a rise in school­girl moth­ers.

How­ever, the re­search found the num­ber of preg­nan­cies has fallen at a sig­nif­i­cantly faster rate over the past six years in com­par­i­son with be­fore 2010.

And the de­cline was the steep­est in ar­eas where coun­cils cut their teenage preg­nancy bud­gets most ag­gres- sively. Writ­ing in the Jour­nal of Health Eco­nomics, the au­thors said: ‘Many years ago, No­bel prize-win­ning econ­o­mist Ge­orge Ak­erlof showed how eas­ier ac­cess to con­tra­cep­tion could lead to an in­crease in risky sex­ual be­hav­iour, which could ul­ti­mately in­crease, rather than de­crease, un­planned preg­nan­cies. Pol­i­cy­mak­ers have ig­nored Ak­erlof’s ar­gu­ment to their cost.’

Mr Wright said the ef­fect was fairly small but had re­mained ro­bust af­ter all of the pair’s ad­just­ments to the data, gath­ered from 149 lo­cal authorities. They found a 10 per cent re­duc­tion in ex­pen­di­ture was as­so­ci­ated with a de­crease of 0.25 per cent in the un­der-18 con­cep­tion rate.

The re­searchers said the change could be partly down to teenagers drink­ing less al­co­hol and do­ing bet­ter in ex­ams, ‘ some­thing which tends to in­crease as­pi­ra­tion and make early preg­nancy less at­trac­tive’.

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