Available literature suggests that fertility rates in developing countries have declined in the past two decades (Dickson, 2002; Caldwell & Caldwell, 2002). It is argued that due to changing socio-political circumstances, women have reassessed the timing of childbirth and the role of motherhood in their lives (Preston-Whyte and Zondi, 1992). It has been found that the average number of children per woman has been reduced significantly when compared to the trend in the 1970s, and that young women tend to delay motherhood. South Africa has the lowest fertility rate in sub-Saharan Africa and is at par with other developing countries outside region (Anderson, 2002).
In the 1998 South African Demographic and Health Survey (SADHS), it was found that the total fertility rate has declined to an average of 2.9 children per woman (Dickson, 2002). A decline in fertility rates has been associated with a high use of contraceptives among women and also the legalisation of abortion in 1996 (Swartz, 2002). Despite the decline in the total fertility rate, adolescent pregnancy has been found to be significantly high. The SADHS revealed that adolescent pregnancies accounted for a third of all births (Dickson, 2002).
In studies conducted in America, differences in incidence of adolescent pregnancy among racial and ethnic groups have also been found (Coley & Chase-Lansdale, 1998). Whites tend to have lower birth rates than Hispanics and African Americans. According to a 1995 study conducted in the United States, it was found that per 1,000 births 205 were of 15 to 19 year olds, 39.3 were of white teenagers, 106.7 were of Hispanics and 99.3 were of African Americans (ibid.). Considerations should be paid to the fact that these statistics are unclear.
Similarly in a 1991 South African study, it was found that of every 1,000 births 330-400 are to teenagers less than 19 years old. In addition, the study conducted by the Human Sciences Research Council on South African fertility trends in 1994 found that 48% of Black women, 17% of Coloured women, 30% of Indian women and 17% of White women gave birth before turning 20 years of age (National Population Unit, in press 2003).
The differences in incidence of teenage pregnancy among racial and ethnic groups result from socio-economic factors. Teenage pregnancy is prevalent in societies characterised by poverty, low education, fewer job opportunities and families headed by mothers who gave birth to their first children in adolescence (Dryfoos, 1996; Macleod, 1999). Teenage pregnancy is also associated with other problematic behaviour such as alcohol and drug use, and early initiation of sexual activity, which have been identified as predictors of pregnancy (Coley & Chase-Lansdale, 1998; National Population Unit, 2000). Plant & Plant (1992) argue that risk or problem behaviour is associated with social disadvantage, poverty, homelessness, unemployment, bad housing, fragmented family structure and stressful life events. The youth emulate the behaviour of their parents and of their society, thus social and cultural factors influence patterns of risk taking (Plant & Plant, 1992).
Early initiation of reproductive behaviour varies widely across countries and between subgroups in the same country. In some societies a woman’s first sexual experience often happens within a marriage, while in other societies sexual activity outside marriage is tolerated. For instance, in North Africa young women are less likely to initiate sexual relationships...