Increase in UK Dropout Age Could Bring Down Teen Pregnancy

The number of UK teens getting pregnant could go down by raising the age at which students can leave school, new research finds. The Guardian reports that this could prove to be very good news for Britain, where rates of teen pregnancy are nearly five times higher than that of Netherlands and twice that of France and Germany. The number of young women getting pregnant in Britain has long been both high and a source of concern for lawmakers and health experts.

Therefore, the newly published paper in time for the Royal Economic Society’s annual conference comes as such welcome news. Researchers predict that the fertility rates of British teens will go down in reaction to the new law that will keep them in school or at least in some kind of government-mandated training until the age of 16 or 17.

The law was drafted back in 2007 by the then-Labour government in response to concerns that too many kids between the ages of 16 and 18 were finding themselves neither in school nor working, creating a major — and expensive — societal problem.

The change, which comes into effect this summer, is the first time the compulsory school leaving age has been raised in more than 40 years. Education reforms in 1972 raised the mandatory school leaving age from 15 to 16 in England and Wales, affecting those born after September 1957.

Research by Tanya Wilson of the department of economics at University of Royal Holloway, London, analyzed the fertility decisions of a sample of 230,000 young women born between 1946 and 1984, drawn from the Labour Force Survey, the largest UK household-level survey. Significantly, her findings suggest that the 1972 change to the school leaving age led to a 7% decline in the likelihood of young women becoming mothers before the age of 20.

Wilson found that the impact was even higher among younger age groups. Under the same conditions, the incidents of pregnancy among girls 16 years of age and younger dropped by 17%. Wilson believes that a similar change which will go into effect this summer should have a similar impact on the teen birth rate throughout the areas where graduation age will be hiked.

On the surface, it seems silly to say that higher pregnancy rates are due to kids simply having more time, yet that is exactly the case as Wilson argues it. When you keep students in school longer, they do not have the same kind of freedom to “get into trouble,” as the saying goes.

She said studies had made similar links between a fall in juvenile crime and raising the school leaving age.

The research looked at women’s fertility choices up to the age of 30 and found that raising the school leaving age had no effect once they had reached the age of 22. The issue of curbing the teen pregnancy rate has long been a goal for politicians. In 1998, the Labour government set out a 10-year plan to halve the teenage pregnancy rate, which stood at 46.6 per 1,000 women under the age of 18.