Teenage motherhood is less common in more equal societies.
One and a quarter million teenagers become pregnant each year in the rich OECD countries and about three quarters of a million go on to become teenage mothers. The differences in teen birth rates between countries are striking. In the USA the teenage birth rate is 52.1 per 1000 women aged 15-19, more than ten times higher than Japan, which has a rate of 4.6.
Babies born to teenage mothers are more likely to have low birth weight, to be born prematurely, to be at higher risk of dying in infancy and, as they grow up, to be at greater risk of educational failure, juvenile crime and becoming teenage parents themselves. Girls who give birth as teenagers are more likely to be poor and uneducated. Teenage motherhood is part of the inter-generational cycle of deprivation and social exclusion.
We have shown that teenage births are related to income inequality internationally in a study published in the American Journal of Public Health. Other researchers have shown the same association in the United States.
Gold R, Kawachi I, Kennedy BP, Lynch JW, Connell FA. Ecological analysis of teen birth rates: association with community income and income inequality. Maternal and Child Health Journal 2001;5(3):161-7. (£)
In the USA: http://www.guttmacher.org/index.html
Wilkinson RG, Pickett KE. The Spirit Level. Penguin. 2009. Buy the book from Amazon.