Inequalities and stigmas continue for Irish teenage mothers, lecturer says

Dr Ciara Bradley says the issue is not the early life pregnancy

Inequalities and stigmas continue for Irish teenage mothers, lecturer says

Dr Ciara Bradley | Image: maynoothuniversity.ie

A Maynooth University lecturer says teenage mothers in Ireland still face inequalities and stigma.

Dr Ciara Bradley is highlighting issues facing teen mums as Sunday marks Mother's Day.

"While Irish society has seen huge amounts of progress in in recent years, teenage mums still face stigma and discrimination," Dr Bradley said.

The lecturer in Applied Social Science has been examining the incidence of teen pregnancy in Ireland both historically and in recent years - as well as the social attitudes that shape how teen mothers are viewed.

She has concluded that - despite advances in social security policies, legislation and information around contraception and abortion, education and access to technology - Ireland is still "a patriarchal society that disadvantages teenage mothers".

'The issue is not pregnancy'

Dr Bradley explained: "Research in this area highlights that there are many misconceptions about teenage motherhood.

"For example that incidences are increasing or that young mothers often become pregnant to access social welfare benefits and subsidised housing, despite there being little evidence to support these claims.

"The issue is not the early life pregnancy.

"Rather, the gendered and class-based inequalities associated with both the incidence and the outcomes of teenage parenthood are the real issues."

She said: "First of all, both the perceived and real responsibility for the pregnancy still lies with the woman.

"This affects how the young woman is viewed in society.

"This applies from conception, and in Ireland today choice is limited.

"If parenting alone, the responsibility also often lies with the woman both placing a burden on the mother and also at the expense perhaps of the father's involvement."

Non-marital birth rates

In her research Dr Bradley notes that before 1960, although teenage pregnancy was not a visible 'problem' in Irish society, examination of the 1957 census reveals pre-marital conceptions were a greater feature of Irish life at this time than non-marital birth statistics would suggest.

She said this is generally because the first strategy of managing a non-marital pregnancy at that time was to encourage the marriage of the mother before the child was born.

"By having young pregnant women either married before their child was born, interned in institutions such as the Magdalene Laundries, or having their babies adopted, there was not the same visibility and discussion of teen pregnancy as seen in later years", she said.

Teen fertility rates in Ireland also increased from the 1960s to a peak in 1980 - only to decline until 1995, and increase again until 2000.

During this period, the Irish teenage fertility rate was higher than that the EU average, but still well below the rates experienced in the UK, New Zealand and the USA.

In 2000, 93% of Irish teenage births were to 'unmarried' mothers, which represented the highest level in all European countries at the time.

"This shows a stark change in a society in which young women would have previously been married off in the case of an unplanned pregnancy", Dr Bradley added.

Births to teenage mothers have steadily declined in Ireland since then.

According to the Central Statistics Office (CSO), numbers have fallen by 62% in the period 2001-2015 - from 3,087 to 1,187.

"As rates of teenage pregnancies in Ireland have changed, so have Irish attitudes to gender and sexuality evolved.

"The past four decades have seen significant improvements in in the lives of women, the LGBTQ communities and other minorities. However, teenage mothers still experience inequalities in society."

Dr Bradley concluded: "Analysis of these attitudes reveal the perceived sexual irresponsibility of women and their supposed lack of responsibility in pursuing education and employment, rather than focusing on the structural barriers that inhibit women's choices regarding participation in education and employment such as educational opportunities, affordable quality childcare, transport and acknowledging that these barriers affect some women more than others."