Girls whose parents expect them to stay at school are less likely to become parents in their teens, according to new research to be presented at the Royal Economic Society’s 2015 annual conference. The study by Ericka Rascon-Ramirez of Middlesex University analyses survey data between 2004 and 2010 on whether parents expected their 13- or 14-year old girls to stay in school after the age of 16, and whether those girls later became teenage mums. Among the findings:
• Girls whose parents have high expectations are less likely to become pregnant in their teens.
• The effect is about half as strong as the influence of having a teenage mum.
• The impact of high expectations is particularly strong among girls who are underachieving at school.
While teenage pregnancy rates are declining, the World Health Organisation (WHO) still finds that British girls between 15 and 19 years old have a higher pregnancy rate than in any other country in Western Europe. Statistics show that girls who get pregnant at this time earn less later in life and have fewer marriage prospects than their friends. There are also disadvantages for their own development.
The research implies that if parents want to encourage their daughters to make better life choices, having high expectations for them – regardless of whether those daughters are performing well at school – is likely to lead to them choosing not to get pregnant when they are young.
Do you remember your teenage years? Having your parents telling you what to do and what not do was perhaps common denominator of this stage. In many cases, we succeeded in doing what we believed was more convenient for us, even when this was against our parents’ will.
But no matter how hard we tried to avoid our parents’ recommendations, it is likely that they ended up influencing, in a more subtle manner, choices that we had considered extremely personal. What our parents expected about our school choices was, very likely, a major determinant of our decisions about conceiving or not a child during our teenage years.
Teenage fertility decisions have been widely studied by social scientists. In particular, sociologists and economists have enormously contributed on this topic by finding that teenage motherhood has, in most of the cases, negative effects on the child’s development and on the teenager’s labour and marriage prospects.
On a smaller scale, other studies have analysed the causes of teenage pregnancy and motherhood by using abortion policies and the spread of contraceptive methods. But there are still several questions related to family determinants of teenage fertility decisions that are still unanswered. In particular, how can parents discourage teenage girls from becoming teenage mums?
According to the latest figures of the Office for National Statistics (ONS), teenage pregnancy rates have declined in the last years in England and Wales. But Britain still presents the highest teenage fertility rate of girls between 15 to 19 years old in Western Europe (World Health Organization Report, 2003).
This research advances our understanding of the causes of teenage pregnancy and motherhood in England. It contributes to the empirical literature in economics and public policy by analysing whether parental expectations about school choices influence teenagers’ fertility decisions and to what extent these expectations can affect them.
To do so, the study uses data on parental expectations about their teenagers’ school choices, as well as on the teenagers’ history of pregnancy and motherhood. Parental expectations data were collected by asking parents, when their teenage girls were 13-14 years old, on their likelihood of attending higher education after compulsory education (at age 16). This question was collected by the Longitudinal Survey of Young People in England (LSYPE) having a national representation for the cohort 2004-2010 who was attending Year 9 in 2004.
Do parental expectations matter for teenage fertility decisions? To answer this question is challenging because expectations might also reflect parental preferences. For this reason, the study uses instrumental variable techniques to analyse the effect of parental expectations on the likelihood of becoming pregnant and being a teenage mother in England between 2004 and 2010.
The findings highlight that having parents with ambitious beliefs about school choices (high expectations about the teenager attending higher education) are less likely to conceive and to have a child during teenage years.
To understand the importance of this result, the study compares the effect of parental expectations on teenage fertility decisions with the effect of having a teenage mother on the same outcomes. The effect of high parental expectations is half as important as being born to a teenage mother.
When analysing the effect of high parental expectations, the study observes that the effects are larger for those teenager girls underperforming at school than for those performing above the mean of the academic performance distribution. These findings open a new channel to influence teenage girls’ fertility decisions by raising parental expectations about teenagers’ future choices.