Are Teenage Birth Rates Higher in More Unequal Rich Countries?

“I came across this scene in Little Sutton, Cheshire and it immediately resonated with me in terms of the project. The link between the rates of teenage pregnancies and the buggies on sale is an obvious photographic fit, however, the presence of the old-style pram gives the picture an almost historical twist, linking the past with the present.” 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 and teenage birth rates are related to income inequality internationally.

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 in rich countries 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. In rich developed countries, teenage motherhood is part of the inter-generational cycle of deprivation and social exclusion.