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A peer-reviewed journal of Anglophone Studies


Sally Brown, Teenage Pregnancy, Parenting and Intergenerational Relations (UK: Palgrave Macmillan), 2016). 247 pages, ISBN 978-1-137-49538-9—Fabienne Portier-Le Cocq, Université François-Rabelais, Tours.

Nine sections compose the well-documented book by British freelance researcher, Sally Brown, Teenage Pregnancy, Parenting and Intergenerational Relations published in early 2016 in Palgrave Macmillan’s Studies in Family and Intimate Life collection. The author intended to deal with families in contemporary Britain, specifically with one form of family formations, young parents in the United Kingdom, although analysis and data are scarce with respect to Northern Ireland. With this aim in view, she conducted qualitative research in local authorities identified as “hotspots” for teenage pregnancy through focus groups and individual in-depth interviews with young parents, siblings, their parents, thanks to a snowball approach, [127] and with social and health workers notably. Her study does not aim to be representative [53]. The author, in the first chapter, also compares the United Kingdom’s rates of teenage conceptions to those of other English-speaking countries, namely the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and the way the phenomenon is portrayed in the media.

The perspective the author adopts changes the vision of teenage parenthood since the genecistic undertone of girls from deprived backgrounds who produce too many children as opposed to older educated childless women is not unearthed. She does not write about ‘‘the wrong type of mothers’’—mothers of low morals—but gives teenage mothers and some teenage fathers a voice through generations of young parents. Young fathers’s interviews stem from those who are not estranged from their partners; the views of some young mothers about the young fathers are also included [127].

The book addresses two central themes: how do families with multigenerational experiences of teenage parenting talk about parenting, both becoming parents themselves and later, advising their children as they grow up; the other focus of research seeks to consider whether there is a culture in some areas of the United Kingdom around early pregnancy/parenting (40].

Sally Brown provides the background of the ten year-action plan implemented by the New Labour governments (1999-2010) and their Teenage Pregnancy Strategy whose aim was both to reduce by half the rate of conceptions of under 18-year-old girls in England and, on the other hand, to reduce the risk of long-term exclusion of teenage parents and their children by increasing their participation in education, employment or training. She argues that New Labour assumed that teenage pregnancies were the results of a failure of some sort. She retraces the development of the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy and alleges that, when Tony Blair launched his policy, the teenage pregnancy rates equated those of the 1950s, and there had been a steady decline of births and conceptions between 1971 and 1999 together with the birth rate for thirty-something women and an increase for women aged 30 or over; hence younger mothers experienced stigma because they became out of the norm. The common denominator between the generations interviewed with respect to labelling, stigma, prejudice and surveillance is that both younger and older generations consider that age is irrelevant in terms of good parenting. Their determination to succeed through going back into their education and taking on board their responsibilities is central. Sally Brown accounts for American and British studies showing that motherhood is often a turning point in the lives of the young women notably by going to education. However, success in this respect is heavily contingent on the support of teaching staff and authorities.

Sally Brown focuses on the shift of attitude towards teenage pregnancy from a health problem to a social problem, i.e. the moralisation of the issue, and holds that, since the 19th century, unmarried, single and teenage mothers have been considered morally and socially unacceptable; age being less a problem than marital status in the United Kingdom. She endeavours to show how British and American societies have changed in this respect, especially since the 1960s -1970s. As cohabitation has become more popular, young mothers no longer have to put their baby up for adoption, governments adopt policies to support families: the first appearance of teenage pregnancy as a policy focus in the UK dates back to the early 1990s in the form of health policy. As a matter of fact, the Conservative governments of  the time (1979-1997) targeted a reduction in teenage conception rates in The Health of The Nation to under 16 year-olds only by at least 50%. The emphasis was also on AIDS/HIV prevention but none of the objectives were reached. Teenage pregnancy, she contends, under New Labour governments was considered a social problem connected to poverty, social exclusion, deprivation, low educational achievement and poor employment opportunities and the solutions to decrease the rates were to mostly focus on the correct use of contraception and economic participation. She holds mixed feelings on the strategy and posits that local authorities were blamed for failures in the areas which underachieved, namely those who failed to see the teenage conception rates decrease or where they increased. She expresses her pessimism in relation to the former coalition management of the reduction of teenage pregnancy rates and the current Conservative government’s policy in this respect, drawing on 2001 UNICEF findings that countries with the highest inequality level experience the highest teenage conception rates.

In the following chapter, Sally Brown explains her methodology, motives and  approach. Her rationale for her qualitative approach is that it conveys a ‘‘more nuanced and positive outlook’’ by providing insight and understanding of young parenthood. Quantitative research, according to the author, presents teenage pregnancy and parenting negatively and as a route to social exclusion [93]. She seeks to contribute to our understanding of becoming and being a young parent, the family relationships and the relationships of the interviewees with other people in their social settings. Stigma attached to young parenthood and the role of the welfare state—especially the benefit system—are also studied. She acknowledges that young fathers do not feature or only in passing in research and policies and, when they do, they are depicted in a negative light. The young fathers who participated in her fieldwork contrast with the usual portrait of ‘‘absent, feckless fathers’’. Becoming a father is the best thing in their lives for many young fathers [174].

The subsequent chapters, complemented by excerpts from informants’ testimonies, analyse the experience of becoming a young parent, breaking the news and decision-making [chapter 4]; the meaning of becoming a parent and the interviewees’ feelings and reactions with respect to the negative discourses attached to teenage pregnancy and parenting and how they build a new life [chapter 5]; fitting in the wider family circle and settings—there were no skipped generation families in the qualitative study—and their own idea of what a family is [chapter 6] despite not belonging to the traditional nuclear family pattern.

In chapter 7, Sally Brown attempts to fill in a gap, as there is little research with professionals [157] thus focuses on the reported experience of staff working with and providing ongoing support to teenage parents through fieldwork conducted in teenage pregnancy ‘hotspots’ in England, and a location in Scotland and Wales. The qualitative research findings were then compared with the teenagers’ and their families’ discourses. The ultimate aim was to establish whether or not there is a culture of teenage pregnancy and parenting. She outlines the political changes from New Labour (1997-2010) to the Conservative and their repercussions in terms of public spending culminating in the reduction in service provision and the Troubled Families Programme (‘‘Broken Britain’’), notably. Hence recalling the very controversial concept of right-wing American political scientist Charles Murray, that of an underclass producing poor parenting and his British fellows’ since the 1970s.

The penultimate chapter deconstructs the politicians’ notion that teenage parents are ‘‘children having children’’ and looks into the future and aspirations of the young people interviewed and that of their children. Transition to adulthood together with timing and speed of transition to adulthood are studied and the author demonstrates that teenage parenthood has been a propeller for the respondents. ‘‘Wanting better’’ and ‘‘being good mothers/parents’’ are critical and recurrent elements in the biographies. The final section summarizes the approach, objectives and findings of the research undertaken. The book on the whole refutes the argument that teenage pregnancy and parenthood have a negative and adverse outcome, and highlights the underlying strong need to expand research on young fathers, always an under-researched group.

© 2017 Fabienne Portier-Le Cocq & GRAAT On-Line













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