Anita Johnson discusses the history, politics and misconceptions surrounding teenage motherhood in England and Wales over the last century
Much has been said and written about teenage motherhood, portraying the negative picture that teenage mothers are problematic, a financial burden on society and the cause of poor life outcomes. Despite being released in 1980, the lyrics of The Special's (1980) track ‘Too Much Too Young’ highlight the strong opinions and discriminative views that have overshadowed teenage motherhood throughout time. These views have often been shared with the public through contentious political speeches and the media.
For centuries, early childbearing and large families ensured economic independence, yet teenage pregnancy has become associated with unmarried motherhood. Historian Pat Thane states that 20% of first births in the early 19th century, and probably 50% of those conceived overall, were born outside of marriage, which suggests that pre-marital sex was normal (Thane, 2011). In the 20th century, many unmarried mothers and their children remained absent from official records, with younger mothers absorbed into wider family. A large gap between older sibling and youngest helped to ensure that a new baby to a younger member appeared the norm. Early censuses did not always list the mother with the child or the truth was not told to hide illegitimacy, so exact details can be difficult to confirm (Thane, 2011).
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