Teenage parent research challenge
Tom Harris MP wrote on his blog a little while back that:
"Most organisations involved in this area [working with teenage parents] will concede that it’s about lack of self-esteem and a perception that the independence that follows childbirth – havings one’s own flat and independent income through benefits, etc – is an individual’s only route out of their current situation."
I asked him whether he could cite any evidence to support this claim, and he had a lot of links about low self-esteem and correlation between socio-economic deprivation and teenage pregnancy, but nothing to support the idea that getting a flat and benefits specifically was a major reason why teenagers got pregnant. He said that he thought he had seen some research by the Scottish Executive which supported this case, but couldn't find it.
This is an issue which I know that Tom is very interested in, so I would like to propose a charity bet. If, by the end of this month, Tom can provide examples of five charities who concede that many teenagers get pregnant to get a flat and benefits, or three pieces of peer-reviewed academic research which find that this is a major motivation for teenage parents, then I will give ten pounds to a charity of his choice.
If he can't, then he has to agree to contact the Scottish Poverty Alliance, and ask them to put him in touch with some teenage parents, listen to their ideas about how government policies should be improved, and then report back on what they said on his blog.
(I haven't contacted the Poverty Alliance before writing this, but I'm sure they'd be happy to help).
I fully expect to lose this bet, because Tom has been studying this subject for several months, has a team of staff who can do research on his behalf, and a large readership of his blog, many of whom claim to be extremely knowledgeable about what motivates teenage parents. He is also writing in support of official government policy, so could potentially call on the resources of the civil service to find the evidence.
But it's worth noting that the research that the YWCA, a charity which does lots of work with teenage parents, cites found that:
“There was no evidence to suggest that women became pregnant to get council housing or social security benefits. Most of them had known little or nothing about housing policy or benefits before becoming pregnant and the little they had known was usually wrong”,
“Most of them had not planned their pregnancies. They often reported being shocked or surprised to find they were pregnant even if they had not been using contraception.
Few of them had considered termination of pregnancy. However, continuing with the pregnancy was often not so much a decision as an acceptance of what had happened, reflecting the sense of fatalism which characterised much of their subsequent behaviour.”
“this research found many young women who were happy with their babies, in stable relationships with young men who shared their responsibilities, were not on benefits and were living in their own accommodation. Teenage mothers should not be treated as a homogeneous group and policy and services need to be flexible to meet their differing needs.”