It has long been an official pretense in Britain that we have so many teenage pregnancies—the most by far in Europe—because British girls don’t know where babies come from. The answer to the problem, therefore, is yet more sex education: ever more children putting ever more condoms onto ever more bananas at ever-earlier ages.
A report from the charity, the Joseph Rowntree Trust, throws doubt on the official line. Its researchers interviewed 41 teenage mothers within a year of giving birth, some as young as 13, who reported wanting to have a baby. They also interviewed ten young fathers.
Although the sample was far from representative, the authors gave the careful reader reason to suppose that the phenomenon of young girls wanting to have babies is more common than often supposed, as Kay Hymowitz also found among American underclass girls (“The Teen Mommy Track,” Autumn 1994). Rather than face up to the disapproval of their parents (or, more likely, parent), and that of the rest of society, teenage mothers prefer to claim that their pregnancies were accidental.
As the report makes clear, and as I have found from clinical experience, the girls regarded pregnancy and the resultant baby as an answer to existential problems. The young women came from broken, violent, chaotic, and loveless homes; they hated school because it seemed pointless; their only employment prospects were in the lowest-paid and most monotonous jobs.
A baby, then, answered all their prayers. It was a constant focus of interest and an object upon which they could lavish their hitherto thwarted desire to love and be loved. They also found that, thanks to welfare, their financial position actually improved after having given birth, provided only that the child’s father did not live with the mother or work to earn his living—whereupon, of course, all state benefits stopped, casting the young family into poverty.
The young mothers also reported that having babies fulfilled a desire for “independence,” a word used without irony in the report. This language is evidence that the British character has changed utterly in the last 60 years. Where once even the poorest people would have thought it a disgrace and humiliation to depend on public welfare, such handouts of taxpayer money by the state now constitute the very conception of independence for a considerable proportion of the population. Indeed, welfare recipients almost all call the day on which they receive their dole “the day when I get paid.”
In not a single case—at least, as far as one can deduce from the report—did a mother wonder whether she was reproducing the conditions from which she was, for understandable reasons, fleeing. The report does, however, quote from an article that appeared in the liberal British newspaper, the Guardian:
So when a girl at 17 decides to go ahead and have a baby, there is no tragedy of lost opportunity other than the local [supermarket] checkout till waiting for her low-paid labour. Why . . . can’t [the government] recognise that some of these teen mums are making reasonable—even moral—decisions about what they value in life, and what they want to do with their lives? How did opting for baby and motherhood over shelf-stacking ever become a tragedy?
Sometimes shallowness goes too deep for tears.