Sex education and free contraception ‘increased teen pregnancy rates’
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’.