The appropriate age when women should become mothers has been the subject of numerous debates for many years. However over recent decades teenage pregnancy has become labeled as a major public health problem, alongside cancer, mental health issues and heart disease (Lawlor & Shaw, 2002).
To discover how large a problem the Government is facing, trends in the conception rates of teenagers need to be examined. Figures from the Office of National Statistics have shown that in 2005 the conception rate in Birmingham fell at a higher rate than the national average for the period 1998 to 2005 (Sutton, 2007). While there is an overall trend for women to leave childbearing until later in life, there was a rise in the 1980s in the proportion of teenagers who become pregnant; after this the figure fluctuated during the 1970s. There were 68 conceptions per 1000 women aged 15 to 19 in England and Wales by the 1990s. By 1999 this rate had dropped slightly to 63 per 1000. A report was produced by the Social Exclusion Unit in June 1999 on teenage pregnancy and parenthood, one of its action points was to halve the rate of conceptions of young women aged under 18 in England by the year 2010. By 1999 the rate of conceptions had fallen to 45 per 1000 of teenagers aged 15 to 17. Since then this rate has remained within the range of 42 to 48 conceptions per 1000. Two fifths of conceptions to young women aged under 20 in England and Wales led to termination in 1999 (Office for National Statistics, 2002). In England the legal definition of a child is a person below the age of 18, who has therefore not reached legal adulthood (UNICEF, 2006).
One problem which teenage parents may suffer from is poverty. Poverty can be viewed in two ways, either as individuals being responsible for their own poverty or theories which view poverty as being produced by the structural forces in society. These approaches have been described as ‘blame the victim’ and ‘blame the system’ theories respectively (Giddens, 2006). There has been a long history of opinion which holds the poor as responsible for the disadvantaged positions they hold in society. The poor houses of the nineteenth century were an early example of the attempts to address the effects of poverty, which were thought to be the result of individual inadequacy, with the poor being seen as being unable to succeed in society due to lack of skills, morals, physical weakness or because of a lack of motivation. The social standing a person held was taken as a reflection of an individual’s effort and talent, those who deserved to succeed did, while others who were less able were destined to fail and this was regarded as a fact of life at the time. With the growth of the welfare state during the mid-twentieth century, explanations that poverty was an individual failing lost much popularity. However during the 1970s and 1980s; with political emphasis on entrepreneurship and the idea that those who succeeded in society did so by their own aspirations; this idea resurfaced again (Giddens, 2006).
Explanations of poverty have often been looked for in the lifestyles of the poor, as well as the attitudes they supposedly support. The American sociologist Charles Murray put forward a significant theory on this subject...