|2006||40.8#Facebook goes global|
The drop in teenage pregnancies has been accompanied by evidence of decreases in other traditionally risky behaviours such as drinking and drug taking.
Children’s charities and experts have repeatedly warned that the explosion of social media is exposing young people to new dangers from online bullying to “sexting” and sexual exploitation by strangers.
But the new figures suggest that the change in how teenagers conduct their social lives could also be helping make them safer.
Overall 22,653 girls under 18 got pregnant in England and Wales in 2014 - a drop of almost seven per cent in a single year. Among under-16s it fell by 10 per cent in the same period.
The rate of conceptions among under-18s dropped from 41.6 per 1,000 girls in the age-group in 2007 to 22.9 per 1,000 in 2014.
Prof David Paton, an economist at Nottingham University Business School – who was among the first to suggest a social media effect on pregnancies – said it was striking that a similar pattern is emerging in other countries such as New Zealand.
“It does potentially fit in terms of timing,” he said.
"Rather than sitting at bus stops with a bottle of vodka they are doing it remotely with their friends."
Prof David Paton
“People [appear to be] spending time at home - rather than sitting at bus stops with a bottle of vodka they are doing it remotely with their friends.”
He argued that better access to contraception could not explain the fall as it coincides with cuts to sexual health services in many areas amid a period of major austerity.
One other possibility, he said, was that major improvements in schools in areas such as London around the same time might have played a part.
But he added: “Nobody really knows why we’ve got this sudden change around about 2007 to 2008.”
Meanwhile the number of pregnancies among older women rose, continuing a long-term trend towards later motherhood.
Notably, the figures also show that 7.8 per cent of pregnancies involving married women ended in an abortion – the highest level for 12 years.
Yet among unmarried women the abortion rate fell slightly from 31.2 per cent of conceptions to 31 per cent.
Clare Murphy, director of external affairs at the abortion provider British Pregnancy Advisory Service (Bpas) said access to contraception and sex education had “undoubtedly” played a part in the declining teenage pregnancy rate but she agreed with Prof Paton’s suggestion of a social media effect.
“The plummeting level of teenage drinking, for example, may be reducing the likelihood of unprotected sex, and teenagers are also increasingly socialising online, limiting the opportunities for sexual activity,” she said.
She added: “As we have seen decreases in conception rates among the under-25s, the largest rise was for women aged 35-39 (a percentage increase of 2.3 per cent).
“Women are increasingly being chivvied about starting their families in their 20s, but the reality is many will wait until their 30s to do so.
“The reasons for this are diverse and will include the time it takes to obtain financial and career security, and not least finding the right person to embark on parenthood with.
“Rather than chastising women, we should support their choices.
“There may be some increased risks with later motherhood, but these need to be kept well in perspective, and women respected as the best judges of when it is best for them to have children.”