Business Roundtable discovers new contraceptive
I see the Business Roundtable is at it again. They've commissioned a report from one Lindsay Mitchell, who is well known for being a virulent opponent of 'welfare' in general and the DPB in particular. The best way to stop young women - especially young Maori women - getting pregnant is to axe the DPB, she says.
Now I just happen to have been looking up teenage pregnancy statistics recently. Births to teenage women (aged under 20) climbed from 5,315 in 1962 to a high of 9,150 in 1972. That's an increase of 72 percent.
The DPB wasn't introduced until 1973. That was the year teenage births started to fall. By 1982, they had more than halved, to less than 4,500 - well below the 1962 number.
Of course, the number of births is related to the number of teenagers. So let's look at this another way. In the early 1970s, before the DPB, 70 out of every 1,000 female teenagers were having a child. By the mid-1980s, this was down to 30 per 1,000. It stayed between 30 and 35 until the late 1990s, then it trended down again. By 2002, the rate was at its lowest in our recorded history, at 25.6 per 1,000 female teenagers.
That's still high compared with all other developed countries except for the USA and UK. But there's no way you can argue that the DPB is responsible - or that axing it would lower the rate.
Business Roundtable members head up major companies. If this report represents what they consider to be inteligent analysis, it's a bit of a worry, eh.
First, Else's statistics are correct although she could have gone further and looked up the latest figures to find out the teenage birth rate is now back up to 32.9 per 1000. She points out that in the early seventies 70 out of every 1000 female teenagers was having a child. Then she describes how the rate trended down to our lowest rate in recorded history at 25.6 per female in 2002.
A majority of teenage births in the early seventies occurred within a marriage albeit many were shotgun marriages. There were 9,150 teenage births in 1971, 55 percent within marriage. Many ex-nuptial teenage births resulted in adoption which peaked at around this time.
The contraceptive pill became available in the 1960s and abortion in the 70s. Thereafter teenagers with an interest in controlling their fertility were better able to do so. There was every likelihood the teenage birthrate would decrease, as did the general fertility rate, dramatically. This doesn't mean the DPB availability wasn't having any influence.
Looking at the general teenage birth rate alone obscures a great deal. It doesn't tell us about the tenfold likelihood that teenage births will be in the poorest communities when compared to the richest. For unqualified and unskilled girls in poor communities the DPB is an incentive because it pays more than any wage they could hope to command. MSD figures show the average all-up benefit for a sole parent in 2006 was $21,580. It's incentive appeal obviously lessens through the rising deciles as young women's alternatives to the DPB improve. In 2006;
* 65.8 girls per 1000 aged 15-19 gave birth in the most economically deprived areas, classified as decile 10.
* 6.92 per 1000 gave birth in the most affluent areas, or decile one.
Looking at the general teenage birth rate tells us nothing about ethnic differences. In 2000-02 the Maori rate was still up at 70 per 1000 - the same as the general rate in the early 70s. The Pacific rate was 48 and the European rate 22.
As demonstrated, teenage births in the early seventies frequently occurred inside a marriage. Being a feminist Else is opposed to shot-gun marriages. She would prefer the state intervened. Many other teenage births ended up in adoption. Something Else is also strongly opposed to (at least the 'closed' variety). Perhaps she would prefer children stayed with their biological mothers at any cost.
When one considers the indicators for a range of social problems, for example, landing in the Youth Court, coming from an adoptive home is not up there with other factors like being fatherless (top of Principal Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft's list), being born to an adolescent mother, or being moved from one foster home to the next as a result.
I cannot know if stopping lifestyle welfare (what we have now) will reduce the teenage birthrate, particularly that of Maori. The US experience was a decline in African American and Hispanic teenage birth rates from 1990 until 2006 with rises since.
But even if the rate didn't drop, taking babies into the wider family, adoption or whangai, or channelling young mothers into jobs or training where they can combine their parenting responsibilities with work, would be preferable to what we do now.