According to official data from the Office of National Statistics in the UK, teenage pregnancy rates have dropped by nearly half since the rise of social media.
The pregnancy rate for girls under the age of 18 in England has dropped 47% since 2007, with current levels the lowest they have been in the past 50 years. The drastic decrease has caused a number of theories to arise, including the success of sex education classes, attitudes concerning young mothers changing, and the impact of immigration.
Others believe the drop could be a result of the rise of social media, saying younger people are spending less time physically being with each other and more time on websites such as Facebook. The social phenomenon went global in 2007 just one year after Facebook expanded access to users not connected to college campuses.
In 2014, 22,653 girls under the age of 18 living in England or Wales became pregnant, representing a drop of close to 7% in one year. For those under the age of 16, the number dropped by 10% in the same time period.
The same year, the rate of conceptions for those under the age of 18 dropped from 41.6 per 1,000 girls in 2007 to 22.9 per 1,000 in 2014, writes John Bingham for The Telegraph.
One of the first to suggest social media held an influence over the rate of teenage pregnancies, Prof. David Paton, an economist at Nottingham University Business School, noted how similar the emerging pattern was to those occurring in other countries such as New Zealand.
“People [appear to be] spending time at home – rather than sitting at bus stops with a bottle of vodka they are doing it remotely with their friends.”
Paton added that increased access to contraception could not explain the change, since cuts to sexual health services had been made to many areas in the country at that time. However, he did concede that improvements made to schools in the same time frame could have something to do with it. But he added that,“Nobody really knows why we’ve got this sudden change around about 2007 to 2008.”
Clare Murphy, director of external affairs at the abortion provider British Pregnancy Advisory Service, believes access to contraception and sex education has played a role in the decrease in the rate of teenage pregnancies, but she added that social media could have affected it as well.
“The plummeting level of teenage drinking, for example, may be reducing the likelihood of unprotected sex, and teenagers are also increasingly socialising online, limiting the opportunities for sexual activity,” she said.
The drop in teenage pregnancies happened at the same time as evidence was found of less drinking and drug use in the UK, particularly among those between the ages of 16 and 24, with the percentage of teenagers who do not consume any alcohol increasing by over 40% between 2005 and 2013, writes Nadia Khomami for The Guardian.
At the same time, the number of pregnancies among older women continued to rise, showing an increase in later motherhood. Of the pregnancies involving married women, 7.8% were found to have ended with an abortion, a statistic found to be the highest in 12 years. Meanwhile, the abortion rate among unmarried women fell from 31.2% to 31%.