Teenage pregnancy

Scotland has a higher rate of teenage pregnancies than most other Western European countries, In 2011 in the under 16 age group there were 5.7 pregnancies per 1,000 population, under 18 age group are 30.6 per 1,000 and the under 20 age group are 45.2 per 1,000.

Young women in the most deprived areas of Scotland are up to ten times more likely to become pregnant than their counterparts in the most affluent parts of the country. A significant proportion of first sex among young people takes place without the use of condoms or other contraception.

Reducing unintended teenage pregnancy but supporting teenage parents where they chose to continue with pregnancy are key issues for the early years workforce and can contribute significantly to improving the long term health outcomes of young people in Scotland.

Teenage pregnancy and inequalities in pregnancy

Though it is a positive experience for some mothers, evidence links teenage motherhood to negative outcomes.

The picture is one of multiple associations between teenage pregnancy and inequalities, rather than teenage pregnancy being a cause of inequalities in itself.

Quick Links:

What are health inequalities?

The WHO defines health inequalities as 'differences in health status or in the distribution of health determinants between different population groups'.

Policy content

Action to reduce inequalities associated with teenage pregnancy is consistent with:

The needs of pregnant teenage mothers are highlighted in A Refreshed Framework for Maternity Care in Scotland (external link).

The Scottish Government acknowledges the key influence of maternal health and wellbeing on the national indicator 'Increase healthy life expectancy at birth in the most deprived areas'(external link).

How do inequalities relate to teenage pregnancy?

  • Among under 20s, the most deprived areas have approximately ten times the rate of delivery as the least deprived (56.1 per 1,000 and 5.5 per 1,000).   (ISD (external link))
  • In 2004-5, 9 per cent of babies born to mothers in the most deprived fifth of the
    population had a low birth weight, compared to 5 per cent of those in the most affluent areas. (Equally Well)

Women from vulnerable groups are less likely to access antenatal services and other sources of support - a high risk factor for maternal and infant mortality (Growing Up in Scotland 2011 (external link)).

Where they do access services, they're likely to do so later in pregnancy, and are less likely to maintain good contact with those services.

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What risks are associated with teenage pregnancy?

  • Negative short, medium and long-term health and mental health outcomes for young mothers
  • Young mothers being less likely to complete their education, pursue positive post-school destinations (in employment or education), or to have qualifications in adulthood
  • Teenage mothers being more likely to be in receipt of income-based benefits or in low paid work; so poverty is strongly associated with teenage parenthood
  • Teenage mothers being more likely to be lone parents, and are more likely to experience family conflict

Teenage mothers living in deprivation tend to remain in poverty. Both mothers and fathers in this group are less likely to continue in education beyond age 16, to have any qualifications or to be in employment aged 33.

Birth weight is lower and infant mortality 60% higher among babies born to teenage mothers than those born to older mothers (Teenage Pregnancy and Parenthood: a review of reviews, 2003, (external link))

However, a Scottish study closely linked higher rates of infant mortality and low birth weight to higher rates of smoking during pregnancy among teenage mothers. (Teenage pregnancy: an overview of research evidence (external link))

Teenage mothers experience poorer mental health in the first three years after giving birth than do older mothers, are less likely to breastfeed, and the children themselves are more likely to become teenage parents.

The negative outcomes which babies and children born to teenage mothers, could face include—

  • Babies tend to have lower than average birth weight
  • Infant mortality rates are higher than for babies of older women
  • Lower rates of breastfeeding, which means babies are less likely to benefit from the associated positive health outcomes
  • Greater risk of living in a lone parent household, with greater risk of poverty, poorer quality housing and poorer nutrition

Identifying those at risk

It's important to link with other professionals who may know more about the family and their circumstances, e.g. carers, GPs, social workers, the police and voluntary sector agencies.

The following factors place teenage women at increased likelihood of becoming pregnant:

  • being the child of a teenage mother
  • young people in or leaving care
  • homeless young people
  • school excludees, truants and young people underperforming at school
  •  young people living in deprived neighbourhoods
  • Young people suffering abuse.

Disliking school and violence in school and the home are also identified as factors linked to teenage pregnancy (Teenage Parenthood and Social Exclusion: A multi-method study (external link)).

Another major predictor is being in or recently having left care (SCIE research briefing 9: Preventing teenage pregnancy in looked after children (external link))

A Pathway of Care for Vulnerable Families (0-3) (external link) sets out key contact points and interactions for those working with vulnerable families.

For a fuller discussion of common risk factors for inequalities in pregnancy, see Inequalities in antenatal care.

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Protective factors

Teenage mothers who do better are aided by:

  • support from family
  • having a positive partner relationship
  • developing a career or having employment they liked

(Teenage Parenthood and Social Exclusion: A multi-method study (external link))


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Articles in this topic



Professional support materials

Information for the public

  • External Resource

    Citizens Advice Scotland

    Citizens advice bureaux are free, confidential, independent and impartial. They offer a wide range of advice including help with benefits, tax, consumer and legal problems.

    • When was this published? 8/18/2010
  • External Resource

    Department of Inland Revenue – child benefit information

    Up-to-date information about child benefit from the government.

    • When was this published? 5/27/2013
  • External Resource

    Family Planning Association Scotland

    This charity offers free help, advice and support about sexual health and relationships. It also provides a range of resources to professionals.

    • When was this published? 8/17/2010
  • External Resource

    Gingerbread - working with pregnant teenagers

    Gingerbread provides advice and practical support for single parents and offers training for practictioners too. There are courses available for working with pregnant teenagers.

    • When was this published? 5/27/2013
  • External Resource


    Like it is provides advice and information for teenagers on sex and pregnancy.

    • When was this published? 8/18/2010
  • External Resource

    Respect and Responsibility: Delivering improvements in sexual health outcomes 2008-11 [118KB]

    This paper sets out the Scottish Government’s response to the independent stock taking review of the national sexual health strategy and action plan “Respect and Responsibility” (2005). The review makes a number of recommendations.

    • When was this published? 8/18/2010
  • External Resource

    Young Parents Survival Guide [6.2MB]

    Information and advice for young parents, covering a whole range of topics from when you first suspect you're pregnant to coping with raising your child.

    • When was this published? 8/17/2010