Teen pregnancy rate still falling
The number of teenage pregnancies continues to drop, but the proportion of young girls keeping their babies has risen slightly, according to new figures.
Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveals that the under-18 conception rate remains the lowest si nce 1969 at 27.9 per 1,000 women aged 15 to 17.
The number of pregnancies in those under 18 fell to 27,834 in 2012 compared with 31,051 in 2011 - a 10% drop.
Some 5,432 under-16s fell pregnant in 2012, compared with 5,991 in 2011 (a fall of 9.3%).
However, the percentage of pregnancies in young girls resulting in abortion has fallen slightly.
Among under-16s, some 3,251 pregnancies resulted in abortion - 59.8% of the total. This is down on 60.2% the previous year and 62.5% the year before that.
The figures also reveal that 253 girls under 14 fell pregnant in 2012, fewer than the previous year, with almost three-quarters having an abortion.
Among all under-18s, there was a slight decrease in the percentage of pregnancies ending in abortion, but an overall rise when figures for 18 and 19-year-olds were taken into account.
The ONS report said: "In 2012, the percentage of conceptions leading to a legal abortion decreased slightly for under-18s but increased for the under-20s. All age groups 20 and above either increased, or experienced no change from 2011."
There was an overall drop in the number of pregnancies in women of all ages in 2012, the figures for England and Wales also show.
In 2012, there were an estimated 884,748 conceptions in women of all ages, compared with 909,109 in 2011, a decrease of 2.7%.
Between 2011 and 2012, pregnancy rates increased for women aged 35 years and over, and decreased for those under 35.
The largest percentage increase in conception rates occurred among women aged 35 to 39 (up 1%), and by 0.7% for women aged 40 and over.
The conception rate for women aged 40 and over has more than doubled since 1990, while the number of women in this age group conceiving has risen from 12,032 in 1990 to almost 29,000 in 2011 and 2012.
For women aged 40 and over, the percentage of conceptions leading to abortion fell from 43% in 1990 to 28% in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
The ONS said: "Reasons for an increased number of women conceiving at ages 30 and above include increased participation in higher education, increased female participation in the labour force, the increasing importance of a career, the rising opportunity costs of childbearing, labour market uncertainty, housing factors and instability of partnerships."
Today's data also revealed a continuing rise in the number of pregnancies and births outside marriage.
In 2012, conceptions outside of a marriage or civil partnership accounted for 57% of all conceptions, compared with 54% in 2002 and 44% in 1992.
"In 2012 the proportion of conceptions outside marriage/civil partnership which resulted in a maternity (birth) was 69%, compared with 92% of conceptions inside marriage/civil partnership," the ONS said.
Tracey McNeill, senior vice president at Marie Stopes UK, said: "It is encouraging to see teenage pregnancy rates continuing to decline; however, we still have high rates compared with many other western European countries and we must do all we can to keep the momentum going.
"The evidence is clear that when men and women of all ages are given sex and relationships education coupled with access to a variety of contraceptive methods, real reductions in unintended pregnancy rates, and consequently abortion rates, can be achieved.
"We need to continue to prioritise sexual health to ensure that the future conception rates reach an all-time low."
Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (Bpas), said: "These statistics demonstrate the trend towards older motherhood is continuing.
"At Bpas we see many younger women who are choosing to postpone starting their family for a number of reasons. Some have not met the right partner, whereas others want to wait until they have greater financial security, a home of their own, or progressed further in their chosen career.
"It is important that reproductive healthcare services, whether providing contraception, abortion or maternity care, reflect this shift.
"While pregnancy and childbirth for older women may present particular challenges, with some mothers requiring additional support, the answer is to provide the services that they need, rather than attempt to cajole women into having children earlier than they feel is right for them."
Professor Kevin Fenton, Public Health England's health and wellbeing director, said: "Today's data show us high conception rates are not inevitable if young people receive the right support.
"Teenage pregnancy and early motherhood can be associated with poor educational achievement, poor physical and mental health, social isolation and poverty, so it is vital this downward trend is continued."
Alison Hadley, teenage pregnancy knowledge exchange director at the University of Bedfordshire, and PHE advisor on this issue, said: "Continued investment and dedication over the last 10 years has paid real dividends, but the England under-18 conception rate remains higher than other Western European countries.
"We need to find ways to both sustain the significant reductions we've made and accelerate progress. Evidence and lessons from local areas shows us young people need comprehensive sex and relationship education in and out of school, easy access to young people-centred contraceptive and sexual health services, and targeted support for those most at risk."