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Social Media May Be Responsible For Drop In Teen Pregnancy

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Teen pregnancy rates in England and Wales have dipped to almost half since the global emergence of social media, data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed. Among girls under 18 years old, the rate of pregnancies now stands at its lowest as it has dropped by 45 percent since 2007.

The ONS figures revealed that a total of 22,653 teenage girls under 18 got pregnant in Wales and England in 2014, a drop of 7 percent in a course of a year. Among teens under 16, the rate plummeted by 10 percent. Among teenagers under 18, the rate of pregnancy went from 41.6 per 1,000 girls in 2007 to 22.9 per 1,000 girls in 2014.

The shocking decrease has prompted experts to pinpoint the cause. Theories include sex education classes paying off, shifting attitudes toward young motherhood, and the impact of immigration.

The most timely speculation, however, is that young people are simply spending less time physically because of social media, which went global around 2007, one year after Facebook expanded its reach beyond university campuses.

Some experts and children's charities have warned that the "explosion of social media" is exposing the youth to new dangers online, such as bullying and sexual exploitation.

But the ONS figures suggest that the changes in teenagers' lifestyles could also be helping them safer from unwanted pregnancies.

The drop in teen pregnancy rates was also accompanied by evidence of decreases in traditional risky behaviors such as drug-taking and alcohol-drinking, authorities said.

Economist David Paton from Nottingham University Business School said it was striking that a similar pattern in teen pregnancy rates is emerging in other countries such as New Zealand. Paton, who is also a professor, was among the first to theorize the effect of social media on teen pregnancies.

"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," said Paton. "It does potentially fit in terms of timing."

Paton argued that access to safe sex methods such as contraception could not explain the reduction, as the dropping rates coincide with cuts to sexual health services in many areas.

Another possibility is that improvements in school that happened about the same time of dropping rates might have also played a part, Paton added.

Photo: Pabak Sarkar | Flickr

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