Teenage pregnancy is not a new phenomenon. For thousands of years, people were married off in their teens and it was not uncommon for a girl to give birth to her first child while still a teenager. What has changed is societal family structures, and now, teenage pregnancy developed countries is synonymous with unwed teen pregnancy. This in turn is associated with social issues like lower educational levels, higher poverty rates, and less success for teen mothers in their life.
Developing nations have the highest rate of teen pregnancy, over 90%. Of the developed world, continental European countries have low rates and this has been attributed to good sex education, use of contraceptives, and social pressures. Of developed countries, the United States has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy and what's surprising is that an important factor contributing to the situation is the age difference between the man and woman in the sexual relationship. Teenagers are more likely to get pregnant if they are in a relationship with an older man, not when they date another teenager around their own age. Factors of abuse are also tied in with a higher teen pregnancy rates.
Maternal health is of concern for teen pregnancies, as the younger mothers are less likely to receive prenatal care and are more likely to have premature births and babies with low birth weights. The development of the child after birth can also be affected by having a teenage mother. They are more likely to suffer from health problems in childhood or be hospitalized than other children. Developmental disabilities and behavioural issues are also more prevalent in the children. They tend to perform worse in school and if their parents were teen parents, girls are more likely to become teen mothers themselves and boys have a higher chance of spending time incarcerated.
Sexual education is a divisive issue, especially in the States. The argument against it is that it will encourage sexual activity in teens. Opponents to sexual education prefer teaching abstinence and encouraging "virginity pledges". Sexual education varies in its success rates, working in some regions and not so well in others. Incorporating the teaching of values, attitudes, and communication along with the biological information on reproduction has shown to be more successful as an educational system. Increasing literacy rates and educational opportunities for girls in developing countries has also helped to raise the average age of mothers when they first give birth.
Doing nothing does not change the reality of teenage pregnancy and it is something that impacts not only the teen mother and her child, but also future generations. Combating the issue from different societal aspects will work better than targeting one piece of the puzzle. Educating teens and addressing the different conditions that promote teen pregnancy are the first steps.